At length he devoted himself to landscape painting. It was a freer and more enjoyable life. Instead of painting the faces of those who were perhaps without character or attractiveness, he painted the fresh and ever-beautiful face of nature. The field of his employment in this respect was almost inexhaustible. His artistic talent in this delightful branch of art was in the highest sense congenial to his mind and feelings; and in course of time the results of his new field of occupation proved thoroughly satisfactory. In fact, men of the highest rank with justice entitled him the "Father of landscape painting in Scotland."
[Image] No. 47 York Place, Edinburgh
At the same time, when changing his branch of art, he opened a class in his own house forgiving practical instruction in the art of landscape painting. He removed his house and studio from St. James's Square to No. 47 York Place. There was at the upper part of this house a noble and commodious room. There he held his class. The house was his own, and was built after his own designs. A splendid prospect was seen from the upper windows; and especially from the Belvidere, which he had constructed on the summit of the roof. The view extended from Stirling in the west to the Bass Rock in the east. In fine summer evenings the sun was often seen setting behind Ben Lomond and the more conspicuous of the Perthshire mountains.
My father did not confine himself to landscape painting, or to the instruction of his classes. He was an all-round man. He had something of the Universal about him. He was a painter, an architect, and a mechanic. Above all, he possessed a powerful store of common sense. Of course, I am naturally a partial judge of my father's character; but this I may say, that during my experience of over seventy years I have never known a more incessantly industrious man. His hand and mind were always at work from morn till night. During the time that he was losing his business in portrait painting, he set to work and painted scenery for the theatres. The late David Roberts—himself a scene painter of the highest character—said that his style was founded upon that of Nasmyth.* [footnote... David Roberts, R,A., in his Autobiography, gives the following recollections of Alexander Nasmyth: — "In 1819 I commenced my career as principal scene painter in the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. This theatre was immense in its size and appointments—in magnitude exceeding Drury Lane and Covent Garden. The stock scenery had been painted by Alexander Nasmyth, and consisted of a series of pictures far surpassing anything of the kind I had ever seen. These included chambers, palaces, streets, landscapes, and forest scenery. One, I remember particularly, was the outside of a Norman castle, and another of a cottage charmingly painted, and of which I have a sketch. But the act scene, which was a view on the Clyde looking towards the Highland mountains with Dumbarton Castle in the middle distance, was such a combination of magnificent scenery, so wonderfully painted, that it excited universal admiration. These productions I studied incessantly; and on them my style, if I have any, was originally founded." ...]
Stanfield was another of his friends. On one occasion Stanfield showed him his sketch-book, observing that he wished to form a style of his own. "Young man," said Nasmyth, "there's but one style an artist should endeavour to attain, and that is the style of nature; the nearer you can get to that the better."
My father was greatly interested in the architectural beauty of his native city, and he was professionally consulted by the authorities about the laying out of the streets of the New Town. The subject occupied much of his time and thought, especially when resting from the mental fatigue arising from a long sitting at the easel. It was his regular practice to stroll about where the building work was in progress, or where new roads were being laid out, and carefully watch the proceedings. This was probably due to the taste which he had inherited from his forebears—more especially from his father, who had begun the buildings of the New Town. My father took pleasure in modelling any improvement that occurred to him; and in discussing the subject with the architects and builders who were professionally engaged in the works. His admirable knack of modelling the contour of the natural surface of the ground, and applying it to the proposed new roads or new buildings, was striking and characteristic. His efforts in this direction were so thoroughly disinterested that those in office were all the more anxious to carry out his views. He sought for no reward; but his excellent advice was not unrecognised. In testimony of the regard which the Magistrates of Edinburgh had for his counsel and services, they presented him in 1815 with a sum of #200, together with a most complimentary letter acknowledging the value of his disinterested advice. It was addressed to him under cover, directed to "Alexander Nasmyth, Architect."
He was, indeed, not unworthy of the name. He was the architect of the Dean Bridge, which spans the deep valley of the Water of Leith, north-west of the New Town. Sir John Nesbit, the owner of the property north of the stream, employed my father to make a design for the extension of the city to his estate. The result was the construction of the Dean Bridge, and the roads approaching it from both sides. The Dean Estate was thus rendered as easy and convenient to reach as any of the level streets of Edinburgh. The construction of the bridge was superintended by the late James Jardine, C.E. Mr Telford was afterwards called upon to widen the bridge. He threw out parapets on each side, but they did not improve the original design.
[Image] St Bernard's Well
From the Dean Bridge another of my father's architectural buildings may be seen, at St. Bernard's Well. It was constructed at the instance of his friend Lord Gardenstone. The design consists of a graceful circular temple, built over a spring of mineral water, which issues from the rock below. It was dedicated to Hygeia, the Goddess of Health. The whole of the details are beautifully finished, and the basement of the design will be admired by every true artist. It is regarded as a great ornament, and is thoroughly in keeping with the beauty of the surrounding scenery.
Shortly after the death of Lord Nelson it was proposed to erect a monument to his memory on the Calton Hill. My father supplied a design, which was laid before the Monument Committee. It was so much approved that the required sum was rapidly subscribed. But as the estimated cost of this erection was found slightly to exceed the amount subscribed, a nominally cheaper design was privately adopted. It was literally a job. The vulgar, churn-like monument was thus thrust on the public and actually erected; and there it stands to this day, a piteous sight to beholders. It was eventually found greatly to exceed in cost the amount of the estimate for my father's design. I give a sketch of my father's memorial; and I am led to do this because it is erroneously alleged that he was the architect of the present inverted spy glass, called "Nelson's Monument"
[Image] Nelson's Monument as it should have been.
Then, with respect to my father's powers as a mechanic. This was an inherited faculty, and I leave my readers to infer from the following pages whether I have not had my fair share of this inheritance. Besides his painting room, my father had a workroom fitted up with all sorts of mechanical tools. It was one of his greatest pleasures to occupy himself there as a relief from sitting at the easel, or while within doors from the inclemency of the weather. The walls and shelves of his workroom were crowded with a multitude of artistic and ingenious mechanical objects, nearly all of which were the production of his own hands. Many of them were associated with the most eventful incidents in his life. He only admitted his most intimate friends, or such as could understand and appreciate the variety of objects connected with art and mechanism, to his workroom. His natural taste for neatness and arrangement gave it a very orderly aspect, however crowded its walls and shelves might be. Everything was in its place, and there was a place for everything. It was in this workroom that I first began to handle mechanical tools. It was my primary technical school—the very foreground of my life.
[Image] Bow-and-string Roofs and Bridges
I may mention one or two of my father's mechanical efforts, or rather his inventions in applied science. One of the most important was the "bow-and-string bridge," as he first called it, to which he early directed his attention. He invented this important method of construction about the year 1794. The first bow-and-string bridge was erected in the island of St. Helena over a deep ravine.
Many considered, from its apparent slightness, that it was not fitted to sustain any considerable load. A remarkable and convincing proof was, however, given of its stability by the passage over it of a herd of wild oxen, that rushed across without the slightest damage to its structure. After so severe a test it was for many succeeding years employed as a most valuable addition to the accessibility of an important portion of the island. The bow-and-string bridge has since been largely employed in spanning wide spaces over which suburban and other railways pass, and in roofing over such stations as those at Birmingham, Charing Cross, and other Great Metropolitan centres, as well as in bow-and-string bridges over rivers. I give the fac-simile of his original drawings* [footnote... The original drawings of these bow-and-string bridges, of various spans, are now deposited at the Gallery of the Museum of Naval Architecture at South Kensington, and are signed "Alexander Nasmyth 1796." ...] for the purpose of showing our great railway engineers the originator of the graceful and economical method of spanning wide spaces, now practised in every part of the civilised world.
Another of his inventions was the method of riveting by compression instead of by blows of the hammer. It originated in a slight circumstance. One wet, wintry Sunday morning he went into his workroom. There were some slight mechanical repairs to be performed upon a beautiful little stove of his own construction. To repair it, iron rivets were necessary to make it serviceable. But as the hammering of the hot rivets would annoy his neighbours by the unwelcome sound of the hammer, he solved the difficulty by using the jaws of his bench vice to squeeze in the hot rivets when put into their places. The stove was thus quickly repaired in the most perfect silence.
This was, perhaps, the first occasion on which a squeeze or compressive action was substituted for the percussive action of the hammer, in closing red-hot rivets, for combining together pieces of stout sheet or plate iron. This system of riveting was long afterwards patented by Smith of Deanston in combination with William Fairbairn of Manchester; and it was employed in riveting the plates used in the construction of the bridges over the River Conway and the Menai Straits.
It is also universally used in boiler and girder making, and in all other wrought-iron structures in which thorough sound riveting is absolutely essential; and by the employment of hydraulic power in a portable form a considerable portion of iron shipbuilding is effected by the silent squeeze system in place of hammers, much to the advantage of the soundness of the work. My father frequently, in aftertimes, practised this mode of riveting by compression in place of using the blow of a hammer; and in remembrance of the special circumstances under which he contrived this silent and most effective method of riveting, he named it "The Sunday Rivet."
CHAPTER 3. An Artist's Family.
Although Alexander Nasmyth had to a considerable extent lost his aristocratic connection as a portrait painter, yet many kind and generous friends gathered round him. During his sojourn in Italy, in 1783, he had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Haddingtonshire. The acquaintance afterwards ripened into a deeply-rooted friendship.
During the winter season Sir James resided with his family in his town house in George Street. He was passionately attached to the pursuit of art and science. He practised the art of painting in my father's room, and was greatly helped by him in the requisite manipulative skill. Sir James was at that time engaged in writing his well-known essay "On the Origin of Gothic Architecture," and in this my father was of important use to him. He executed the greater number of the illustrations for this beautiful work. The book when published had a considerable influence in restoring the taste of architects to a style which they had heretofore either neglected or degraded.
Besides his enthusiasm in art and architecture, Sir James devoted a great deal of time to the study of geology. The science was then in its infancy. Being an acute observer, Hall's attention was first attracted to the subject by the singular geological features of the sea-coast near his mansion at Dunglass. The neighbourhood of Edinburgh also excited his interest. The upheaval of the rocks by volcanic heat —as seen in the Castle Hill, the Calton Hill, and Arthur's Seat— formed in a great measure the foundation of the picturesque beauty of the city. Those were the days of the Wernerian and Huttonian controversy as to the origin of the changes on the surface of the earth. Sir James Ball was President of the Edinburgh Royal Society, and necessarily took an anxious interest in the discussions. He observed and experimented, and established the true volcanic nature of the composition and formation of the rocks and mountains which surround Edinburgh.
I have been led to speak of this subject, because when a boy I was often present at the discussions of these great principles. My father, Sir James Hall, Professors Playfair and Leslie, took their accustomed walks round Edinburgh, and I clung eagerly to their words. Though unable to understand everything that was said, these walks had a great influence upon my education. Indeed, what education can compare with that of listening attentively to the conversation and interchange of thought of men of the highest intelligence? It is on such occasions that ideas, not mere words, take hold of the memory, and abide there until the close of life.
Besides mixing in the society of scientific men, my father enjoyed a friendly intercourse with the artists of his day. He was often able to give substantial help and assistance to young students; and he was most liberal in giving them valuable practical instruction, and in assisting them over the manipulative difficulties which lay in their way. He was especially assiduous when he saw them inspired by the true spirit of art, and full of application and industry,—without which nothing can be accomplished. Amongst these young men were David Wilkie, Francis Grant, David Roberts, Clarkson Stanfield, William Allan, Andrew Geddes, "Grecian" Williams, Lizars the engraver, and the Rev. John Thomson of Duddingston.
Henry Raeburn was one of his most intimate friends and companions. He considered Raeburn's broad and masterly style of portrait painting as an era in Scottish art. Raeburn, with innate tact, discerned the character of his sitters, and he imparted so much of their individuality into his portraits as to make them admirable likenesses in the highest sense. In connection with Raeburn, I may mention that when he was knighted by George IV. in 1822, my father, who was then at the head of his profession in Scotland, was appointed chairman at the dinner held to do honour to the great Scottish portrait painter.
Raeburn often joined my father in his afternoon walks round Edinburgh —a relaxation so very desirable after hours of close attention to artistic work. They took delight in the wonderful variety of picturesque scenery by which the city is surrounded. The walks about Arthur's Seat were the most enjoyable of all. When a boy I had often the pleasure of accompanying them, and of listening to their conversation. I thus picked up many an idea that served me well in after life. Indeed, I may say, after a long experience, that there is no class of men whose company I more delight in than that of artists. Their innate and highly-cultivated power of observation, not only as regards the ever-varying aspects of nature, but also as regards the quaint, droll, and humorous varieties of character, concur in rendering their conversation most delightful. I look back on these walks as among the brightest points in my existence. I have been led to digress on this subject. Although more correctly belonging to my father's life, yet it is so amalgamated with my own that it almost forms part of it, and it is difficult for me to separate the one from the other.
And then there were the pleasant evenings at home. When the day's work was over, friends looked in to have a fireside crack—sometimes scientific men, sometimes artists, often both. They were all made welcome. There was no formality about their visits. Had they been formal, there would have been comparatively little pleasure. The visitor came in with his "Good e'en", and seated himself. The family went on with their work as before. The girls were usually busy with their needles, and others with pen and pencil. My father would go on with the artistic work he had in hand, for his industry was incessant. He would model a castle or a tree, or proceed with some proposed improvement of the streets or approaches of the rapidly expanding city. Among the most agreeable visitors were Professor Leslie, James Jardine, C.E., and Dr. Brewster. Their conversation was specially interesting. They brought up the last new thing in science, in discovery, in history, or in campaigning, for the war was then raging throughout Europe.
The artists were a most welcome addition to the family group. Many a time did they set the table in a roar with their quaint and droll delineations of character. These unostentatious gatherings of friends about our fireside were a delightful social institution. The remembrance of them lights up my recollection of the happiest period of a generally happy life. Could I have been able to set forth the brightness and cheerfulness of these happy evenings at my father's house, I am fain to think that my description might have been well worth reading. But all the record of them that remains is a most cherished recollection of their genial tone and harmony, which makes me think that, although in these days of rapid transit over earth and ocean, and surrounded as we are with the results of applied scientific knowledge, we are not a bit more happy than when all the vaunted triumphs of science and so-called education were in embryo.
The supper usually followed, for my father would not allow his visitors to go away supperless. The meal did not amount to much. Rizard or Finnan harddies, or a dish of oysters, with a glass of Edinburgh ale, and a rummer of toddy, concluded these friendly evenings. The cry of "Caller Aou" was constantly heard in the streets below of an evening. When the letter r was in the name of the month, the supply of oysters was abundant. The freshest oysters, of the most glorious quality, were to be had at 2s. 6d. the hundred! And what could be more refreshing food for my father's guests? These unostentatious and inexpensive gatherings of friends were a most delightful social institution among the best middle-class people of Edinburgh some sixty or seventy years ago. What they are now I cannot tell. But I fear they have disappeared in the more showy and costly tastes that have sprung up in the progress of what is called "modern society."
No part of my father's character was more admirable than his utter unselfishness. He denied himself many things, that he might give the greater pleasure to his wife and children. He would scarcely take part in any enjoyment, unless they could have their fair share of it. In all this he was faithfully followed by my mother. The admirable example of well-sustained industry that was always before her, sustained her in her efforts for the good of her family. She was intelligently interested in all that related to her husband's business and interests, as well as in his recreative enjoyments. The household affairs were under her skilful guidance. She conducted them with economy, and yet with generous liberality, free from the least taint of ostentation or extravagance. The home fireside was a scene of cheerfulness. And most of our family have been blest with this sunny gift. Indeed, a merrier family circle I have never seen. There were twelve persons round the table to be provided for, besides two servants. This required, on my mother's part, a great deal of management, as every housekeeper will know. Yet everything was provided and paid for within the year's income.
The family result of my father and mother's happy marriage was four sons and seven daughters. Patrick, the eldest, was born in 1787. He was called after my father's dear and constant friend, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton. I will speak by and by of his artistic reputation. Then followed a long succession of daughters— Jane, the eldest', was born in 1788; Barbara 1790; Margaret in 1791; Elizabeth in 1793; Anne in 1798; Charlotte in 1804. Then came a succession of three sons—Alexander, George,and James. There followed another daughter, Mary; but as she only lived for about eighteen months, I remained the youngest of the family.
My sisters all possessed, in a greater or less degree, an innate love of art, and by their diligent application they acquired the practice of painting landscape in oils. My father's admirable system and method of teaching rendered them expert in making accurate sketches from nature, which, as will afterwards be seen, they turned to good account. My eldest sister, Jane, was in all respects a most estimable character, and a great help to my mother in the upbringing of the children. Jane was full of sound common sense; her judgment seemed to be beyond her years. Because of this the younger members of the family jokingly nicknamed her "Old Solid"!—Even my father consulted her in every case of importance in reference to domestic and financial affairs. I had the great good fortune, when a child, to be placed under her special protection, and I have reason to be thankful for the affectionate care which she took of me during the first six years of my life.
Besides their early education in art, my mother was equally earnest in her desire to give her daughters a thorough practical knowledge in every department and detail of household management. When they had attained a suitable age they were in succession put in charge of all the household duties for two weeks at a time. The keys were given over to them, together with the household books, and at the end of their time their books were balanced to a farthing. They were then passed on to the next in succession. One of the most important branches of female education—the management of the domestic affairs of a family, the superintendence of the cooking so as to avoid waste of food, the regularity of the meals, and the general cleaning up of the rooms— was thus thoroughly attained in its best and most practical forms. And under the admirable superintendence of my mother everything in our family went on like clockwork.
My father's object was to render each and all of his children— whether boys or girls—independent on their arrival at mature years. Accordingly, he sedulously kept up the attention of his daughters to fine art. By this means he enabled them to assist in the maintenance of the family while at home, and afterwards to maintain themselves by the exercise of their own abilities and industry after they had left. To accomplish this object, as already described, he set on foot drawing classes, which were managed by his six daughters, superintended by himself.
Edinburgh was at that time the resort of many county families. The war which raged abroad prevented their going to the Continent. They therefore remained at home, and the Scotch families for the most part took up their residence in Edinburgh. There were many young ladies desiring to complete their accomplishments, and hence the establishment of my sisters' art class. It was held in the large painting-room in the upper part of the house. It soon became one of the most successful institutions in Edinburgh. When not engaged in drawing and oil painting, the young ladies were occupied in sketching from nature, under the superintendence of my sisters, in the outskirts of Edinburgh. This was one of the most delightful exercises in which they could be engaged; and it also formed the foundation for many friendships which only terminated with life.
My father increased the interest of the classes by giving little art lectures. They were familiar but practical. He never gave lectures as such, but rather demonstrations. It was only when a pupil encountered some technical difficulty, or was adopting some wrong method of proceeding, that he undertook to guide them by his words and practical illustrations. His object was to embue the minds of the pupils with high principles of art. He would take up their brushes and show by his dexterous and effective touches how to bring out, with marvellous ease, the right effects of the landscape. The other pupils would come and stand behind him, to see and hear his clear instructions carried into actual practice on the work before him. He often illustrated his little special lessons by his stores of instructive and interesting anecdotes, which no doubt helped to rivet his practice all the deeper into their minds. Thus the Nasmyth classes soon became the fashion. In many cases both mothers and daughters might be seen at work together in that delightful painting-room. I have occasionally met with some of them in after years, who referred to those pleasant hours as among the most delightful they had ever spent.
These classes were continued for many years. In the meantime my sisters' diligence and constant practice enabled them in course of time to exhibit their works in the fine art exhibitions of Edinburgh. Each had her own individuality of style and manner, by which their several works were easily distinguished from each other. Indeed, whoever works after Nature will have a style of their own. They all continued the practice of oil painting until an advanced age. The average duration of their lives was about seventy-eight.
There was one point which my father diligently impressed upon his pupils, and that was the felicity and the happiness attendant upon pencil drawing. He was a master of the pencil, and in his off-hand sketches communicated his ideas to others in a way that mere words could never have done. It was his Graphic Language. A few strokes of the pencil can convey ideas which quires of writing would fail to impart. This is one of the most valuable gifts which a man who has to do with practical subjects can possess. "The language of the pencil" is a truly universal one, especially in communicating ideas which have reference to material forms. And yet it is in a great measure neglected in our modern system of education.
The language of the tongue is often used to disguise our thoughts, whereas the language of the pencil is clear and explicit. Who that possesses this language can fail to look back with pleasure on the course of a journey illustrated by pencil drawings? They bring back to you the landscapes you have seen, the old streets, the pointed gables, the entrances to the old churches, even the bits of tracery, with a vividness of association such as mere words could never convey. Thus, looking at an old sketch-book brings back to you the recollection of a tour, however varied, and you virtually make the journey over again with its picturesque and beautiful associations. On many a fine summer's day did my sisters make a picnic excursion into the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. They were accompanied by their pupils, sketch-book and pencil in hand. As I have already said, there is no such scenery near any city that I know of. Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, Duddingston Loch, the Braid Hills, Craigmillar Castle, Hawthornden, Roslin, Habbie's How, and the many valleys and rifts in the Pentlands, with Edinburgh and its Castle in the distance; or the scenery by the sea-shore, all round the coast from Newhaven to Gullane and North Berwick Law.
The excursionists came home laden with sketches. I have still by me a multitude of these graphic records made by my sisters. Each sketch, however slight, strikes the keynote, as it were, to many happy recollections of the circumstances, and the persons who were present at the time it was made. I know not of any such effective stimulant to the recollection of past events as these graphic memoranda. Written words may be forgotten, but these slight pencil recollections imprint themselves on the mind with a force that can never be effaced. Everything that occurred at the time rises up as fresh in the memory as if hours and not years had passed since then. They bring to the mind's eye many dear ones who have passed away, and remind us that we too must follow them.
It is much to be regretted that this valuable art of graphic memoranda is not more generally practised. It is not merely a most valuable help to the memory, but it educates the eye and the hand, and enables us to cultivate the faculty of definite observation. This is one of the most valuable accomplishments that I know of, being the means of storing up ideas, and not mere words, in the mental recollection of both men and women.
Before I proceed to record the recollections of my own life, I wish to say something about my eldest brother Patrick, the well-known landscape painter. He was twenty-one years older than myself! My father was his best and almost his only instructor. At a very early age he manifested a decided taste for drawing and painting. His bent was landscape. This gave my father great pleasure, as it was his own favourite branch of art. The boy acquired great skill in sketching trees, clouds, plants, and foregrounds. He studied with wonderful assiduity and success. I possess many of his graphic memoranda, which show the care and industry with which he educated his eye and hand in rendering with truth and fidelity the intimate details of his art. The wild plants which he introduced into the foregrounds of his pictures were his favourite objects of study. But of all portions of landscape nature, the Sky was the one that most delighted him. He studied the form and character of clouds—resting cloud, the driving cloud, and the rain cloud—and the sky portions of his paintings were thus rendered so beautifully attractive.
He was so earnest in his devotion to the study of landscape that in some respects he neglected the ordinary routine of school education. He successfully accomplished the three R.'s, but after that his school was the fields, in the face of Nature. He was by no means a Romantic painter. His taste was essentially for Home subjects. In his landscapes he introduced picturesque farm-houses and cottages, with their rural surroundings; and his advancement and success were commensurate with his devotion to this fine branch of art. The perfect truth with which he represented English scenery, associated as it is with so many home-loving feelings, forms the special attractiveness of his works. This has caused them to be eagerly sought after, and purchased at high prices.
Patrick had a keen sense of humour, though in other respects he was simple and unpretending. He was a great reader of old-fashioned novels, which indeed in those days were the only works of the kind to be met with. The Arabian Nights, Robinson crusoe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and such like, were his favourites, and gave a healthy filip to his imagination. He had also a keen relish for music, and used to whistle melodies and overtures as he went along with his work. He acquired a fair skill in violin playing. While tired with sitting or standing he would take up his violin, play a few passages, and then go to work again.
Patrick removed to London in 1808, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in the following year. He made excursions to various parts of England, where he found subjects congenial to his ideas of rural beauty. The immediate neighbourhood of London, however, a bounded with the most charming and appropriate subjects for his pencil. These consisted of rural "bits" of the most picturesque but homely description—decayed pollard trees and old moss-grown orchards, combined with cottages and farm-houses in the most paintable state of decay, with tangled hedges and neglected fences, overrun with vegetation clinging to them with all "the careless grace of Nature." However neglected these might be by the farmer, they were always tit-bits for Patrick. When sketching such subjects he was in his glory, and he returned to his easel loaded with sketch-book treasures, which when painted form the gems of many a collection.
In some of these charming subjects glimpses of the distant capital may be observed, with the dome of St. Paul's in the distance; but they are introduced with such skill and correctness as in no way to interfere with the rural character of his subject. When he went farther afield —to Windsor Forest, Hampshire, the New Forest, or the Isle of Wight —he was equally diligent with his pencil, and came home laden with sketches of the old monarchs of the forest. When in a state of partial decay his skilful touch brought them to life again, laden with branches and lichen, with leaves and twigs and bark, and with every feature that gives such a charm to these important elements in true English landscape scenery. On my brother's first visit to London, accompanied by my father, he visited many collections where the old Dutch masters were to be seen, and he doubtless derived much advantage from his careful studies, more particularly from the works of Hobbema, Ruysdael, and Wynants. These came home to him as representations of Nature as she is. They were more free from the traditional modes of representing her. The works of Claude Lorraine and Richard Wilson were also the objects of his admiration, though the influence of the time for classicality of treatment to a certain extent vitiated these noble works. When a glorious sunset was observed, the usual expression among the lovers of art was, "What a magnificent Claudish effect!" thus setting up the result of man's feeble attempt at representation as the standard of comparison, in place of the far grander original!
My brother carefully studied Nature herself. His works, following those of my father, led back the public taste to a more healthy and true condition, and by the aid of a noble army of modern British landscape painters, this department of art has been elevated to a very high standard of truth and excellence.
I find some letters from Patrick to my father, after his settlement as an artist in London. My father seems to have supplied him with money during the early part of his career, and afterwards until he had received the amount of his commissions for pictures. In one of his letters he says: "That was an unlucky business, the loss of that order which you were so good as send me on my account." It turned out that the order had dropt out of the letter enclosing it, and was not recovered. In fact, Patrick was very careless about all money transactions.
In 1814 he made the acquaintance of Mr. Barnes, and accompanied him to Bure Cottage, Ringwood, near Southampton, where he remained for some time. He went into the New Forest, and brought home "lots of sketches." In 1815 he exhibited his works at the Royal Academy. He writes to his father that "the prices of my pictures in the Gallery are— two at fourteen guineas each (small views in Hampshire), one at twelve guineas, and two at fourteen guineas. They are all sold but one. These pictures would now fetch in the open market from two to three hundred guineas each. But in those days good work was little known, and landscapes especially were very little sought after.
Patrick Nasmyth's admirable rendering of the finer portions of landscape nature attracted the attention of collectors, and he received many commissions from them at very low prices. There was at that time a wretched system of delaying the payment for pictures painted on commission, as well as considerable loss of time by the constant applications made for the settlement of the balance. My brother was accordingly under the necessity of painting his pictures for the Dealers, who gave him at once the price which he required for his works. The influence of this system was not always satisfactory. The Middlemen or Dealers, who stood between the artist and the final possessor of the works, were not generous. They higgled about prices, and the sums which they gave were almost infinitesimal compared with the value of Patrick Nasmyth's pictures at the present time.
The Dealers were frequent visitors at his little painting-room in his lodgings. They took undue advantage of my brother's simplicity and innate modesty in regard to the commercial value of his works. When he had sketched in a beautiful subject, and when it was clear that in its highest state of development it must prove a fine work, the Dealer would pile up before him a row of guineas, or sovereigns, and say, "Now, Peter, that picture's to be mine!", The real presence of cash proved too much for him. He never was a practical man. He agreed to the proposal, and thus he parted with his pictures for much less than they were worth. He was often remonstrated with by his brother artists for letting them slip out of his hands in that way—works that he would not surrender until he had completed them, and brought them up to the highest point of his fastidious taste and standard of excellence. Among his dearest friends were David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield. He usually replied to their friendly remonstrances by laughingly pointing to his bursting portfolios of sketches, and saying, "There's lots of money in these banks to draw from." He thus warded off their earnest and often-repeated remonstrances. Being a single man, and his habits and style of living of the most simple kind, he had very little regard for money except as it ministered to his immediate necessities. His evenings were generally spent at a club of brother artists "over the water;" and in their company he enjoyed many a pleasant hour. His days were spent at his easel. They were occasionally varied by long walks into the country near London, for the purpose of refilling his sketch-book.
It was on one of such occasions—when he was sketching the details of some picturesque pollard old willows up the Thames, and standing all the time in wet ground—that he caught a severe cold which confined him to the house. He rapidly became worse. Two of his sisters, who happened to be in London at the time, nursed him with devoted attention. But it was too late. The disease had taken fatal hold of him. On the evening of the l7th August 1831 there was a violent thunderstorm. At length the peals of thunder ceased, the rain passed away, and the clouds dispersed. The setting sun burst forth in a golden glow. The patient turned round on his couch and asked that the curtains might be drawn. It was done. A blaze of sunset lit up his weary and worn-out face. "How glorious it is!" he said. Then, as the glow vanished he fell into a deep and tranquil sleep, from which he never awoke. Such was the peaceful end of my brother Patrick, at the comparatively early age of forty-four years.
CHAPTER 4. My Early Years.
I WAS born on the morning of the 19th of August 1808, at my father's house No. 47 York Place, Edinburgh. I was named James Hall after my father's dear friend, Sir James Hall of Dunglass. My mother afterwards told me that I must have been "a very noticin' bairn," as she observed me, when I was only a few days old, following with my little eyes any one who happened to be in the room, as if I had been thinking to my little self, "Who are you?"
After a suitable time I was put under the care of a nursemaid. I remember her well—Mary Peterkin—a truly Scandinavian name. She came from Haddingtonshire, where most of the people are of Scandinavian origin. Her hair was of a bright yellow tint. She was a cheerful young woman, and sang to me like a nightingale. She could not only sing old Scotch songs, but had a wonderful memory for fairy tales. When under the influence of a merry laugh, you could scarcely see her eyes; their twinkle was hidden by her eyelids and lashes. She was a willing worker, and was always ready to lend a helping hand at everything about the house, she took great pride in me, calling me her "laddie."
When I was toddling about the house, another sister was born, the last of the family. Little Mary was very delicate; and to improve her health she was sent to a small farm-house at Braid Hills, about four miles south of Edinburgh. It was one of the most rural and beautiful surroundings of the city at that time. One of my earliest recollections is that of being taken to see poor little Mary at the farmer's house. While my nursemaid was occupied in inquiring after my sister, I was attracted by the bright red poppies in a neighbouring field. When they made search for me I could not be found. I was lost for more than an hour. At last, seeing a slight local disturbance among the stalks of corn, they rushed to they spot, and brought me out with an armful of brilliant red poppies. To this day poppies continue to be my greatest favourites.
When I was about four or five years old, I was observed to give a decided preference to the use of my left hand. Everything was done to prevent my using it in preference to the right. My mother thought that it arose from my being carried on the wrong arm by my nurse while an infant. The right hand was thus confined, and the left hand was used. I was constantly corrected, but "on the sly" I always used it, especially in drawing my first little sketches. At last my father, after viewing with pleasure one of my artistic efforts, done with the forbidden hand, granted it liberty and independence for all time coming. "Well," he said, "you may go on in your own way in the use of your left hand, but I fear you will be an awkward fellow in everything that requires handiness in life. I used my right hand in all that was necessary, and my left in all sorts of practical manipulative affairs. My left hand has accordingly been my most willing and obedient servant in transmitting my will through my fingers into material or visible forms. In this way I became ambidexter.
When I was about four years old, I often followed my father into his workshop when he had occasion to show to his visitors some of his mechanical contrivances or artistic models. The persons present usually expressed their admiration in warm terms of what was shown to them. On one occasion I gently pulled the coat-tail of one of the listeners and confidentially said to him, as if I knew all about it, "My papa's a kevie Fellae!" My father was so greatly amused by this remark that he often referred to it as "the last good thing" from that old-fashioned creature little Jamie.
One of my earliest recollections is the annual celebration of my brother Patrick's birthday. Being the eldest of the family, his birthday was held in special honour. My father invited about twenty of his most intimate friends to dinner. My mother brought her culinary powers into full operation. The younger members of the family also took a lively interest in all that was going on, with certain reversionary views as to "the day after the feast." We took a great interest in the Trifle, which was no trifle in reality, in so far as regarded the care and anxiety involved in its preparation. In connection with this celebration, it was all established institution that a large hamper always arrived in good time from the farm attached to my mother's old home at Woodhall, near Edinburgh. It contained many substantial elements for the entertainment—a fine turkey, fowls, duck, and suchlike; with two magnums of the richest cream. There never was such cream! It established a standard of cream in my memory; and since then I have always been hypercritical about the article.
On one of these occasions, when I was about four years old, and being the youngest of the family, I was taken into the company after the dinner was over, and held up by my sister Jane to sing a verse from a little song which my nurse Mary Peterkin had taught me, and Which ran thus:
"I'll no bide till Saturday, But I'll awa' tile morn, An' follow Donald Hielandman, An' carry his poother-horn."
This was my first and last vocal performance. It was received with great applause. In fact, it was encored. The word "poother," which I pronounced "pootle", excited the enthusiasm of the audience. I was then sent to bed with a bit of plum-cake, and was doubtless awakened early next morning by the irritation of the dried crumbs of the previous night's feast.
I am reminded, by reading over a letter of my brother Patrick's, of an awkward circumstance that happened to me when I was six years old. In his letter to my father, dated London, 22d September 1814, he says: "I did get a surprise when Margaret's letter informed me of my little brother Jamie's fall. It was a wonderful escape. For God's sake keep an eye upon him!" Like other strong and healthy boys, I had a turn for amusing myself in my own way. When sliding down the railing of the stairs I lost my grip and fell suddenly over. The steps were of stone. Fortunately, the servants were just coming up laden with carpets which they had been beating. I fell into their midst and knocked them out of their hands. I was thus saved from cracking my poor little skull. But for that there might have been no steam hammer—at least of my contrivance!
Everything connected with war and warlike exploits is interesting to a boy. The war with France was then in full progress. Troops and bands paraded the streets. Recruits were sent away as fast as they could be drilled. The whole air was filled with war. Everybody was full of excitement about the progress of events in Spain. When the great guns boomed forth from the Castle, the people were first startled. Then they were surprised and anxious. There had been a battle and a victory! "Who had fallen?" was the first thought in many minds. Where had the battle been, and what was the victory? Business was suspended. People rushed about the streets to ascertain the facts. It might have been at Salamanca, Talavera, or Vittoria. But a long time elapsed before the details could be received; and during that time sad suspense and anxiety prevailed in almost every household. There was no telegraph then. It was only after the Gazette had been published that people knew who had fallen and who had survived.
The war proceeded. The volunteering which went on at the time gave quite a military aspect to the city. I remember how odd it appeared to me to see some well-known faces and figures metamorphosed into soldiers It was considered a test of loyalty as well as of patriotism, to give time, money, and leisure to take up the arms of defence, and to practise daily in military uniform in the Meadows or on Bruntsfield Links. Windows were thrown up to hear the bands playing at the head of the troops, and crowds of boys, full of military ardour, went, as usual, hand to hand in front of the drums and fifes. The most interesting part of the procession to my mind was the pioneers in front, with their leather aprons, their axes and saws, and their big hairy caps and beards. They were to me so suggestive of clearing the way through hedges and forests, and of what war was in its actual progress.
Every victory was followed by the importation of large numbers of French prisoners. Many of them were sent to Edinburgh Castle. They were permitted to relieve the tedium of their confinement by manufacturing and selling toys; workboxes, brooches, and carved work of different kinds. In the construction of these they exhibited great skill, taste, and judgment. They carved them out of bits of bone and wood. The patterns were most beautiful; and they were ingeniously and tastefully ornamented. The articles were to be had for a mere trifle, although fit to be placed with the most choice objects of artistic skill.
These poor prisoners of war were allowed to work at their tasteful handicrafts in small sheds or temporary workshops at the Castle, behind the palisades which separated them from their free customers outside. There was just room between the bars of the palisades for them to hand through their exquisite works, and to receive in return the modest prices which they charged. The front of these palisades became a favourite resort for the inhabitants of Edinburgh; and especially for the young folks. I well remember being impressed with the contrast between the almost savage aspect of these dark-haired foreigners, and the neat and delicate produce of their skilful fingers.
At the peace of 1814, which followed the siege of Paris, great rejoicings and illuminations took place, in the belief that the war was at an end. The French prisoners were sent back to their own country, alas! to appear again before us at Waterloo. The liberation of those confined in Edinburgh Castle was accompanied by an extraordinary scene. The French prisoners marched down to the transport ships at Leith by torchlight. All the town was out to see them. They passed in military procession through the principal streets, singing as they marched along their revolutionary airs, "Ca lra" and "The Marseillaise." The wild enthusiasm of these haggard-looking men, lit up by torchlight and accompanied by the cheers of the dense crowd which lined the streets and filled the windows, made an impression on my mind that I can never forget.
A year passed. Napoleon returned from Elba, and was rejoined by nearly all his old fighting-men. I well remember, young as I was, an assembly of the inhabitants of Edinburgh in Charlotte Square, to bid farewell to the troops and officers then in garrison. It was a fine summer evening when this sad meeting took place. The bands were playing as their last performance, "Go where glory waits thee!" The air brought tears to many eyes; for many who were in the ranks might never return. After many a hand-shaking, the troops marched to the Castle, previous to their early embarkation for the Low Countries on the following morning.
Then came Waterloo and the victory! The Castle guns boomed forth again; and the streets were filled with people anxious to hear the news. At last came the Gazette filled with the details of the killed and wounded. Many a heart was broken, many a fireside was made desolate. It was indeed a sad time. The terrible anxiety that pervaded so many families; the dreadful sacrifice of lives on so many battlefields; and the enormously increased taxation, which caused so many families to stint themselves to even the barest necessaries of life;—such was the inglorious side of war.
But there was also the glory, which almost compensated for the sorrow. I cannot resist narrating the entry of the Forty-second Regiment into Edinburgh shortly after the battle of Waterloo. The old "Black Watch" is a regiment dear to every Scottish heart. It has fought and struggled when resistance was almost certain death. At Quatre Bras two flank companies were cut to pieces by Pire's cavalry. The rest of the regiment was assailed by Reille's furious cannonade, and suffered severely. The French were beaten back, and the remnant of the Forty-second retired to Waterloo, where they formed part of the brigade under Major-General Pack. At the first grand charge of the French, Picton fell and many were killed. Then the charge of the Greys took place, and the Highland regiments rushed forward, with cries of "Scotland for ever!" Only a remnant of the Forty-second survived. They were however recruited, and marched into France with the rest of the army.
Towards the end of the year the Forty-Second returned to England, and in the beginning of 1816 they set out on their march towards Edinburgh. They were everywhere welcomed with enthusiasm. Crowds turned out to meet them and cheer them. When the first division of the regiment approached Edinburgh, almost the entire population turned out to welcome them. At Musselburgh, six miles off; the road was thronged with people. When the soldiers reached Piershill, two miles off, the road was so crowded that it took them two hours to reach the Castle. I was on a balcony in the upper part of the High Street, and my father, mother, and sisters were with me. We had waited very long; but at last we heard the distant sound of the cheers, which came on and on, louder and louder.
The High Street was wedged with people excited and anxious. There seemed scarcely room for a regiment to march through them. The house-tops and windows were crowded with spectators. It was a grand sight. The high-gabled houses reaching as far as the eye could see, St. Giles' with its mural crown, the Tron Kirk in the distance, and the picturesque details of the buildings, all added to the effectiveness of the scene.
At last the head of the gallant band appeared. The red coats gradually wedged their way through the crowd, amidst the ringing of bells and the cheers of the spectators. Every window was in a wave of gladness, and every house-top was in a fever of excitement. As the red line passed our balcony, with Colonel Dick at its head, we saw a sight that can never be forgotten. The red-and-white plumes, the tattered colours riddled with bullets, the glittering bayonets, were seen amidst the crowd that thronged round the gallant heroes, amidst tears and cheers and hand-shakings and shouts of excitement. The mass of men appeared like a solid body moving slowly along; the soldiers being almost hidden amongst the crowd. At last they passed, the pipers and drums playing a Highland march; and the Forty-Second slowly entered the Castle. It was perhaps the most extraordinary scene ever witnessed in Edinburgh.
One of my greatest enjoyments when a child was in going out with the servants to the Calton, and wait while the "claes" bleached in the sun on the grassy slopes of the hill. The air was bright and fresh and pure. The lasses regarded these occasions as a sort of holiday. One or two of the children usually accompanied them. They sat together, and the servants told us their auld-warld stories; common enough in those days, but which have now, in a measure, been forgotten. "Steam" and "progress" have made the world much less youthful and joyous than it was then.
The women brought their work and their needles with them, and when they had told their stories, the children ran about the hill making bunches of wild flowers—including harebells and wild thyme. They ran after the butterflies and the bumbees, and made acquaintance in a small way with the beauties of nature. Then the servants opened their baskets of provisions, and we had a delightful picnic. Though I am now writing about seventy years after the date of these events, I can almost believe that I am enjoying the delightful perfume of the wild thyme and the fragrant plants and flowers, wafted around me by the warm breezes of the Calton hillside.
In the days I refer to, there was always a most cheerful and intimate intercourse kept up between the children and the servants. They were members of the same family, and were treated as such. The servants were for the most part country-bred—daughters of farm servants or small farmers. They were fairly educated at their parish schools; they could read and write, and had an abundant store of old recollections. Many a pleasant crack we had with them as to their native places, their families, and all that was connected with them. They became lastingly attached to their masters and mistresses, as well as to the children. All this led to true attachment; and when they left; us, for the most part to be married we continued to keep up a correspondence with them, which lasted for many years.
While enjoying these delightful holidays, before my school-days began, my practical education was in progress, especially in the way of acquaintance with the habits of nature in a vast variety of its phases, always so attractive to the minds of healthy children. It happened that close to the Calton Hill, in the valley at its northern side, there were many workshops where interesting trades were carried on; there were coppersmiths, tinsmiths, brass-founders, goldbeaters, and blacksmiths. Their shops were all arranged in a busy group at the foot of the hill, in a place called Greenside. The workshops were open to the inspection of passers-by. Little boys looked in and saw the men at work amidst the blaze of fires and the beatings of hammers.
Amongst others, I was an ardent admirer. I may almost say that this row of busy workshops was my first school of practical education. I observed the mechanical manipulation of the men, their dexterous use of the hammer, the chisel, and the file; and I imbibed many lessons which afterwards proved of use to me. Then I had tools at home in my father's workshop. I tried to follow their methods; I became greatly interested in the use of tools and their appliances; I could make things for myself. In short, I became so skilled that the people about the house called me "a little Jack-of-all-trades."
While sitting on the grassy slopes of the Calton Hill I would often hear the chimes sounding from the grand old tower of St.Giles. The cathedral lay on the other side of the valley which divides the Old Town from the New. The sounds came over the murmur of the traffic in the streets below.
The chime-bells were played every day from twelve till one—the old-fashioned dinner-hour of the citizens. The practice had been in existence for more than a hundred and fifty years. The pleasing effect of the merry airs, which came wafted tome by the warm summer breezes, made me long to see them as well as hear them.
[Image] Mural crown of St Giles', Edinburgh
My father was always anxious to give pleasure to his children. Accordingly, he took me one day, as a special treat, to the top of the grand old tower, to see the chimes played. As we passed up the tower, a strong vaulted room was pointed out to me, where the witches used to be imprisoned. I was told that the poor old women were often taken down from this dark vault to be burnt alive! Such terrible tales enveloped the tower with a horrible fascination to my young mind. What a fearful contrast to the merry sound of the chimes issuing from its roof on a bright summer day.
On my way up to the top flat, where the chimes were played, I had to pass through the vault in which the great pendulum was slowly swinging in its ghostly-like tick-tack, tick-tack; while the great ancient clock was keeping time with its sudden and startling movement. The whole scene was almost as uncanny as the witches' cell underneath. There was also a wild rumbling thumping sound overhead. I soon discovered the cause of this, when I entered the flat where the musician was at work. He was seen in violent action, beating or hammering on the keys of a gigantic pianoforte-like apparatus. The instruments he used were two great leather-faced mallets, one of which he held in each hand. Each key was connected by iron rods with the chime-bells above. The frantic and mad-like movements of the musician, as he energetically rushed from one key to another, often widely apart gave me the idea that the man was daft—especially as the noise of the mallets was such that I heard no music emitted from the chimes so far overhead. It was only when I had climbed up the stair of the tower to where the bells were rung that I understood the performance, and comprehended the beating of the chimes which gave me so much pleasure when I heard them at a distance.
Another source of enjoyment in my early days was to accompany my mother to the market. As I have said before, my mother, though generous in her hospitality, was necessarily thrifty and economical in the management of her household. There were no less than fourteen persons in the house to be fed, and this required a good deal of marketing. At the time I refer to, (about 1816, it was the practice of every lady who took pride in managing economically the home department of her husband's affairs, to go to market in person. The principal markets in Edinburgh were then situated in the valley between the Old and New Towns, in what used to be called the Nor Loch.
Dealers in fish and vegetables had their stalls there: the market for butcher meat was near at hand: each being in their several locations. It was a very lively and bustling sight to see the marketing going on. When a lady was observed approaching, likely to be a customer, she was at once surrounded by the "caddies." They were a set of sturdy hard-working women, each with a creel on her back. Their competition for the employer sometimes took a rather energetic form. The rival candidates pointed to her with violent exclamations; "She's my ledie! she's my ledie!" ejaculated one and all. To dispel the disorder, a selection of one of the caddies would be made, and then all was quiet again until another customer appeared.
There was a regular order in which the purchases were deposited in the creel. First, there came the fish, which were carefully deposited in the lowest part, with a clean deal board over them. The fishwives were a most sturdy and independent class, both in manners and language. When at home, at Newhaven or Fisherrow, they made and mended their husbands' nets, put their fishing tackle to rights, and when the fishing boats came in they took the fish to market at Edinburgh. To see the groups of these hard-working women trudging along with their heavy creels on their backs, clothed in their remarkable costume, with their striped petticoats kilted up and showing their sturdy legs, was indeed a remarkable sight. They were cheerful and good-natured, but very outspoken. Their skins were clear and ruddy, and many of the young fishwives were handsome and pretty. They were, in fact, the incarnation of robust health. In dealing with them at the Fish Market there was a good deal of higgling. They often asked two or three times more than the fish were worth—at least, according to the then market price. After a stormy night, during which the husbands and sons had toiled to catch the fish, on the usual question being asked, "Weel, Janet, hoo's haddies the day!" "Haddies, mem? Ou, haddies is men's lives the day!" which was often true, as haddocks were often caught at the risk of their husbands' lives. After the usual amount of higgling, the haddies were brought down to their proper market price, —sometimes a penny for a good haddock, or, when herrings were rife, a dozen herrings for twopence, crabs for a penny, and lobsters for threepence. For there were no railways then to convey the fish to England, and thus equalise the price for all classes of the community.
Let me mention here a controversy between a fishwife and a buyer called Thomson. the buyer offered a price so ridiculously small for a parcel of fish that the seller became quite indignant, and she terminated at once all further higgling. Looking up to him, she said, "Lord help yer e'e-sight, Maister Tamson!" "Lord help my e'e-sight, woman! What has that to do with it?" "Ou," said she, "because ye ha'e nae nose to put spectacles on!" As it happened, poor Mr. Thomson had, by some accident or disease, so little of a nose left, if any at all, that the bridge of the nose for holding up the spectacles was almost entirely wanting. And thus did the fishwife retaliate on her niggardly customer.
When my mother had got her fish laid at the bottom of the creel, she next went to the "flesher" for her butcher-meat. There was no higgling here, for the meat was sold at the ordinary market price. Then came the poultry stratum; then the vegetables, or fruits in their season; and, finally, there was "the floore"—a bunch of flowers; not a costly bouquet, but a, large assortment of wallflowers, daffodils (with their early spring fragrance), polyanthuses, lilacs, gilly-flowers, and the glorious old-fashioned cabbage rose, as well as the even more gloriously fragrant moss rose. The caddy's creel was then topped up, and the marketing was completed. The lady was followed home; the contents were placed in the larder; and the flowers distributed all over the house.
I have many curious traditional evidences of the great fondness for cats which distinguished the Nasmyth family for several generations. My father had always one or two of such domestic favourites, who were, in the best sense, his "familiars." Their quiet, companionable habits rendered them very acceptable company when engaged in his artistic work. I know of no sound so pleasantly tranquillising as the purring of a cat, or of anything more worthy of admiration in animal habit as the neat, compact, and elegant manner in which the cat adjusts itself at the fireside, or in a snug, cosy place, when it settles down for a long quiet sleep. Every spare moment that a cat has before lying down to rest is occupied in carefully cleaning itself, even under adverse circumstances. The cat is the true original inventor of a sanitary process, which has lately been patented and paraded before the public as a sanitary novelty; and yet it has been in practice ever since cats were created. Would that men and women were more alive to habitual cleanliness—even the cleanliness of cats. The kindly and gentle animal gives us all a lesson in these respects.
Then, nothing can be more beautiful in animal action than the exquisitely precise and graceful manner in which the cat exerts the exact amount of effort requisite to land it at the height and spot it wishes to reach at one bound. The neat and delicately precise manner in which cats use their paws when playing with those who habitually treat them with gentle kindness is truly admirable. In these respects cats are entitled to the most kindly regard. There are, unfortunately, many who entertain a strong prejudice against this most perfect and beautiful member of the animal creation, and who abuse them because they resist ill-treatment, occasioned by their innate feeling of independence. Cats have no doubt less personal attachment than dogs, but when kindly treated they become in many respects attached and affectionate animals.
My father, when a boy, made occasional visits to Hamilton, in the West of Scotland, where the descendants of his Covenanting ancestors still lived. One of them was an old bachelor—a recluse sort of man; and yet he had the Nasmyth love of cats. Being of pious pedigree and habits, he always ended the day by a long and audible prayer. My father and his companions used to go to the door of his house to listen to him, but especially to hear his culminating finale. He prayed that the Lord would help him to forgive his enemies and all those who had done him injury; and then, with a loud burst, he concluded, "Except John Anderson o' the Toonhead, for he killed my cat, and him I'll ne'er forgie! In conclusion, I may again refer to Elspeth Nasmyth, who was burnt alive for witchcraft, because she had four black cats, and read her Bible through two Pairs of spectacles!
CHAPTER 5. My School-days.
Before I went to school it was my good fortune to be placed under the special care of my eldest sister, Jane. She was twenty years older than myself, and had acquired much practical experience in the management of the younger members of the family. I could not have had a more careful teacher. She initiated me into the difficulties of A B C, and by learning me to read she gave me a key to the thoughts of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived.
But all this was accomplished at first in a humdrum and tentative way. About seventy years ago children's books were very uninteresting. In the little stories manufactured for children, the good boy ended in a Coach-and-four, and the bad boy in a ride to Tyburn. The good boys must have been a set of little snobs and prigs, and I could scarcely imagine that they could ever have lived as they were represented in these goody books. If so, they must have been the most tiresome and uninteresting vermin that can possibly be imagined. After my sister had done what she could for me, I was sent to school to learn "English." I was placed under the tuition of a leading teacher called Knight, whose school-room was in the upper storey of a house in George Street. Here I learned to read with ease. But my primitive habit of spelling by ear, in accordance with the simple sound of the letters of the alphabet (phonetically, so to speak) brought me into collision with my teacher. I got many a cuff on the side of the head, and many a "palmy" on my hands with a thick strap of hard leather, which did not give me very inviting views as to the pleasures of learning. The master was vicious and vindictive. I think it a cowardly way to deal with a little boy in so cruel a manner, and to send him home with his back and fingers tingling and sometimes bleeding, because he cannot learn so quickly as his fellows.
On one occasion Knight got out of temper with my stupidity or dulness in not comprehending something about 'a preter-pluperfect tense,' or some mystery of that sort. He seized me by the ears, and beat my head against the wall behind me with such savage violence that when he let me go, stunned and unable to stand, I fell forward on the floor bleeding violently at the nose, and with a terrific headache. The wretch might have ruined my brain for life. I was carried home and put to bed, where I lay helpless for more than a week. My father threatened to summon the teacher before the magistrates for what might have been a fatal assault on poor little me; but on making a humble apology for his brutal usage he was let off. Of course I was not sent back to his school. I have ever since entertained a hatred against grammatical rules.
There was at that time an excellent system of teaching young folks the value of thrift. This consisted in saving for some purpose or another the Saturdays penny—one penny being our weekly allowance of pocket-money. The feats we could perform in the way of procuring toys, picture-books, or the materials for constructing flying kites, would amaze the youngsters of the present day, who are generally spoiled by extravagance. And yet we obtained far more pleasure from our purchases. We had in my time "penny pigs," or thrift boxes. They were made in a vase form, of brown glazed earthenware, the only entrance to which was a slit—enough to give entrance to a penny. When the Saturday's penny was not required for any immediate purposes, it was dropped through the slit, and remained there until the box was full. The maximum of pennies it could contain was about forty-eight. When that was accomplished, the penny pig was broken with a hammer, and its rich contents flowed forth. The breaking of the pig was quite an event. The fine fat old George the Third penny pieces looked thoroughly substantial in our eyes. And then there was the spending of the money,—for some long-looked-for toy, or pencils, or book, or painting materials.
One of the ways in which I used my Saturday pennies was in going with some of my companions into the country to have a picnic. We used to light a fire behind a hedge or a dyke, or in the corner of some ruin, and there roast our potatoes, or broil a red herring on an extempore gridiron we contrived for the purpose. We lit the fire by means of a flint and steel and a tinder-box, which in those days every boy used to possess. The bramble-berries gave us our dessert. We thoroughly enjoyed these glorious Saturday afternoons. It gave us quite a Robinson Crusoe sort of feeling to be thus secluded from the world. Then the beauty of the scenery amidst which we took our repast was such as I cannot attempt to describe. A walk of an hour or so would bring us into the presence of an old castle, or amongst the rocky furze and heather-clad hills, amidst clear rapid streams, so that, but for the distant peeps of the city, one might think that he was far from the busy haunts of men and boys.
To return to my school-days. Shortly after I left the school in George Street, where the schoolmaster had almost split my skull in battering it upon the wall behind me, I was entered as a pupil at the Edinburgh High School, in October 1817. The school was situated near the old Infirmary. Professor Pillans was the rector, and under him were four masters. I was set to study Latin under Mr. Irvine. He was a mere schoolmaster in the narrowest sense of the term. He was not endowed with the best of tempers, and it was often put to the breaking strain by the tricks and negligence of the lower-form portion of his class. It consisted of nearly two hundred boys; the other three masters had about the same number of scholars. They each had a separate class-room.
I began to learn the elementary rudiments of Latin grammar. But not having any natural aptitude for aquiring classic learning so called, I fear I made but little progress during the three years that I remained at the High School. Had the master explained to us how nearly allied many of the Latin and Greek roots were to our familiar English words, I feel assured that so interesting and valuable a department of instruction would not have been neglected. But our memories were strained by being made to say off "by heart," as it was absurdly called, whole batches of grammatical rules, with all the botheration of irregular verbs and suchlike. So far as I was concerned, I derived little benefit from my High School teaching, except that I derived one lesson which is of great use in after life. I mean as regards the performance of duty. I did my tasks punctually and cheerfully, though they were far from agreeable. This is an exercise in early life that is very useful in later years.
In my walks to and from the High School, the usual way was along the North and South Bridges,—the first over the Nor' Loch, now the railway station, and the second over the Cowgate. That was the main street between the Old Town and the New. But there were numerous wynds and closes (as the narrow streets are called) which led down from the High Street and the upper part of the Canongate to the High School, through which I often preferred to wander. So long as Old Edinburgh was confined within its walls the nobles lived in those narrow streets; and the Old houses are full of historical incident. My father often pointed out these houses to me, and I loved to keep up my recollections. I must have had a little of the antiquarian spirit even then. I got to know the most remarkable of those ancient houses—many of which were distinguished by the inscriptions on the lintel of the entrance, as well as the arms of the former possessors. Some had mottoes such as this: "BLESIT BE GOD AND HYS GIFTIS. 1584." There was often a tower-shaped projection from the main front of the house, up which a spiral stair proceeded.
This is usually a feature in old Scotch buildings. But in these closes the entrance to the houses was through a ponderous door, studded with great broad-headed nails, with loopholes at each side of the door, as if to present the strongest possible resistance to any attempt at forcible entrance. Indeed, in the old times before the Union the nobles were often as strong as the King, and many a time the High Street was reddened by the blood of the noblest and bravest of the land. In 1588 there was a cry of "A Naesmyth," "A Scott," in the High Street. It was followed by a clash of arms, and two of Sir Michael Naesmyth's sons were killed in that bloody feud. Edinburgh was often the scene of such disasters. Hence the strengthening of their houses, so as to resist the inroads of feudal enemies.
[Image] Doorhead, from an old mansion
The mason-work of the doors was executed with great care and dexterity. It was chamfered at the edges in a bold manner, and ornamented with an O.G. bordering, which had a fine effect while it rendered the entrance more pleasant by the absence of sharp angles. The same style of ornamentation was generally found round the edges of the stone-work of the windows, most commonly by chamfering off the square angle of the stone-work. This not only added a grim grace to the appearance of the windows, but allowed a more free entrance of light into the apartments, while it permitted the inmates to have a better ranged view up and down the Close. These gloomy-looking mansions were grim in a terrible sense, and they reminded one of the fearful transactions of "the good old times!"
On many occasions, when I was taking a daunder through these historic houses in the wynds and closes of the Old Town, I have met Sir Walter Scott showing them to his visitors, and listened to his deep, earnest voice while narrating to them some terrible incident in regard to their former inhabitants. On other occasions I have frequently met Sir Walter sturdily limping along over the North Bridge, while on his way from the Court of Session (where he acted as Clerk of the Records) to his house in Castle Street. In the same way I saw most of the public characters connected with the Law Courts or the University. Sir Waiter was easily distinguished by his height, as well as his limp or halt in his walk. My father was intimate with most, if not all, of the remarkable Edinburgh characters, and when I had the pleasure of accompanying him in his afternoon walks I could look at them and hear them in the conversations that took place.
I remember, when I was with my father in one of his walks, that a young English artist accompanied us. He had come across the Border to be married at Gretna Green, and he brought his bride onward to Edinburgh. My father wished to show him some of the most remarkable old buildings of the town. It was about the end of 1817, when one of the most interesting buildings in Edinburgh was about to be demolished. This was no less a place than the Old Tolbooth in the High Street,—a grand but gloomy old building. It had been originally used as the city palace of the Scottish kings. There they held their councils and dispensed justice. But in course of time the King and Court abandoned the place, and it had sunk into a gaol or prison for the most abandoned of malefactors. After their trial the prisoners were kept there waiting for execution, and they were hanged on a flat-roofed portion of the building at its west end.
[Image] The Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh. By Alexander Nasmyth. From the drawing in the possession of lord Inglis, Lord Justice-General.
At one of the strongest parts of the building a strong oak chest, iron-plated, had been built in, held fast by a thick wall of stone and mortar on each side. The iron chest measured about nine feet square, and was closed by a strong iron door with heavy bolts and locks. This was the Heart of Midlothian, the condemned cell of the Tolbooth.* [footnote... Long after the condemned cell had been pulled down, an English Chartist went down to Edinburgh to address a large meeting of his brother politicians. He began by addressing them as "Men of the Heart of Midlothian!" There was a loud guffaw throughout the audience. He addressed them as if they were a body of condemned malefactors. ...]
The iron chest was so heavy that the large body of workmen could not, with all their might, pull it out. After stripping it of its masonry, they endeavoured by strong levers to tumble it down into the street. At last, with a "Yo! heave ho!" it fell down with a mighty crash.
The iron chest was so strong that it held together, and only the narrow iron door, with its locks, bolts, and bars, was burst open, and jerked off amongst the bystanders.
It was quite a scene. A large crowd had assembled, and amongst them was Sir Walter Scott. Recognising my father, he stood by him, while both awaited the ponderous crash. Sir Walter was still the Great Unknown. When his Heart of Midlothian was published in the course of the following year, it was pretty well known that he was the author of that fascinating novel. Sir Waiter got the door and the key, as relics, for his house at Abbotsford.
There was a rush of people towards the iron chest to look into the dark interior of that veritable chamber of horrors. My father's artist friend went forward with the rest, and endeavoured to pick up some remnant of the demolished structure. As soon as the clouds of dust had been dispersed, he observed, under the place where the iron box had stood, a number of skeletons of rats, as dry as mummies. He selected one of these,* [footnote... I was so much impressed with the events of the day, and also with the fact of the young artist having taken with him so repulsive a memento as a rat's skeleton, that I never forgot it. More than half century later, when I was at a private view of the Royal Academy, I saw sitting on one of the sofas a remarkable and venerable-looking old gentleman. On inquiring of my friend Thomas Webster who he was, he answered, "Why, that's old Linnell!" I then took the liberty of sitting down beside him, and, apologising for my intrusion on his notice, I said it was just fifty-seven years since I had last seen him! I mentioned the circumstance of the rat-skeleton which he had put in his pocket at Edinburgh. He was pleased and astonished to have the facts so vividly recalled to his mind. At last he said, "Well, I have that mummy rat, the relic of the Heart of Midlothian, safe in a cabinet of curiosities in my house at Redhill to this day." ...] wrapped it in a newspaper and put it in his pocket as a recollection of his first day in Edinburgh, and of the final destruction of the "Heart of Midlothian." This artist was no other than John Linnell, the afterwards famous landscape painter. He was then a young and unknown man. He brought a letter of introduction to my father. He also brought a landscape as a specimen of his young efforts, and it was so splendidly done that my father augured a brilliant career for this admirable artist.
I had the pleasure of seeing Sir Waiter Scott on another and, to me, a very memorable occasion. From an early period of my schoolboy days I had a great regard for every object that had reference to bygone times. They influenced my imagination, and conjured up in my mind dreamy visions of the people of olden days. It did not matter whether it was an old coin or an old castle. took pleasure in rambling about the old castles near Edinburgh, many of them connected with the times of Mary Queen of Scots. Craigmillar Castle was within a few miles of the city; there was also Crighton Castle, and above all Borthwick Castle. This grand massive old ruin left a deep impression on my mind. The sight of its gloomy interior, with the great hall lighted up only by stray glints of sunshine, as if struggling for access through the small deep-seated windows in its massive walls, together with its connection with the life and times of Queen Mary, had a far greater influence upon my mind than I experienced while standing amidst the Coliseum at Rome.
Like many earnest-minded boys, I had a severe attack at the right time of life, say from 12 to 15, of what I would call "the collecting period." This consisted, in my case, of accumulating old coins, perhaps one of the most salutary forms of this youthful passion. I made exchanges with my school companions. Sometimes my father's friends, seeing my anxiety to improve my collection gave me choice specimens of bronze and other coins of the Roman emperors, usually duplicates from their own collection.
These coins had the effect of promoting my knowledge of Roman history. I read up in order to find out the acts and deeds of the old rulers of the civilised world. Besides collecting the coins, I used to make careful drawings of the obverse and reverse faces of each in an illustrated catalogue which I kept in my little coin cabinet.
I remember one day, when sitting beside my father making a very careful drawing of a fine bronze coin of Augustus, that Sir Walter Scott entered the room. He frequently called upon my father in order to consult him with respect to his architectural arrangements. Sir Walter caught sight of me, and came forward to look over the work I was engaged in. At his request I had the pleasure of showing him my little store of coin treasures, after which he took out of his waistcoat pocket a beautiful silver coin of the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, and gave it to me as being his "young brother antiquarian." I shall never forget the kind fatherly way in which he presented it. I considered it a great honour to be spoken to in so friendly a way by such a man; besides, it vastly enriched my little collection of coins and medals.
It was in the year 1817 that I had the pleasure, never to be forgotten, of seeing the great engineer, James Watt. He was then close upon his eighty-second year. His visit to Edinburgh was welcomed by the most distinguished scientific and literary men of the city. My father had the honour of meeting him at a dinner given by the Earl of Buchan, at his residence in George Street. There were present, Sir James Hall, President of the Royal Society; Francis Jeffrey, Editor of the Edinburgh Review; Walter Scott, still the Great Unknown; and many other distinguished notabilities. The cheerful old man delighted them with his kindly talk, as well as astonished them with the extent and profundity of his information.
On the following day Mr. Watt paid my father a visit he carefully examined his artistic and other works. Having inspected with great pleasure some landscape paintings of various scenes in Scotland executed by my sisters, who were then highly efficient artists, he purchased a specimen of each, as well as three landscapes painted by my father, as a record of his pleasant visit to the capital of his native country. I well remember the sight I then got of the Great Engineer. I had just returned from the High School when he was leaving my father's house. It was but a glimpse I had of him. But his benevolent countenance and his tall but bent figure made an impression on my mind that I can never forget. It was even something to have seen for a few seconds so truly great and noble a man.
I did not long continue my passion for the collection of coins, I felt a greater interest in mechanical pursuits. I have a most cherished and grateful remembrance of the happy hours and days that I spent in my father's workroom. When the weather was cold or wet ,he took refuge with his lathe and tools, and there I followed and watched him. He took the greatest pleasure in instructing me. Even in the most humble mechanical job he was sure to direct my attention to the action of the tools and to the construction of the work he had in hand, and pointed out the manipulative processes requisite for its being effectually carried out. My hearty zeal in assisting him was well rewarded by his implanting in my mind the great fundamental principles on which the practice of engineering in its grandest forms is based. But I did not learn this all at once. It came only gradually, and by dint of constant repetition and inculcation. In the meantime I made a beginning by doing some little mechanical work on my own account.
While attending the High School, from 1817 to 1820, there was the usual rage amongst boys for spinning-tops, "peeries," and "young cannon." By means of my father's excellent foot-lathe I turned out the spinning-tops in capital style, so much so that I be came quite noted amongst my school companions. They all wanted to have specimens of my productions. They would give any price for them. The peeries were turned with perfect accuracy, and the steel shod, or spinning pivot, was centred so as to correspond exactly with the axis of the top. They could spin twice as long as the bought peeries. When at full speed they would "sleep," that is, revolve without the slightest waving. This was considered high art as regarded top-spinning.
Flying-kites and tissue paper balloons were articles that I was somewhat famed for producing. There was a good deal of special skill required for the production of a flying-kite. It must be perfectly still and steady when at its highest flight in the air. Paper messengers were sent up to it along the string which held it to the ground. The top of the Calton Hill was the most favourite place for enjoying this pleasant amusement.
Another article for which I became equally famous was the manufacture of small brass cannon. These I cast and bored, and mounted on their appropriate gun-carriages. They proved very effective, especially in the loudness of the report when fired. I also converted large cellar-keys into a sort of hand-cannon. A touch-hole was bored into the barrel of the key, with a sliding brass collar that allowed the key-guns to be loaded and primed and ready for firing. The principal occasion on which the brass cannon and hand-guns were used was on the 4th of June—King George the Thirds birthday. This was always celebrated with exuberant and noisy loyalty. The guns of the Castle were fired at noon, and the number of shots corresponded with the number of years that the king had reigned. The grand old Castle was enveloped in smoke, and the discharges reverberated along the streets and among the surrounding hills. Everything was in holiday order. The coaches were hung with garlands, the shops were ornamented, the troops were reviewed on Bruntsfield Links, and the citizens drank the king's health at the Gross, throwing the glasses over their shoulders. The boys fired off gunpowder, or threw squibs or crackers from morning till night. It was one of the greatest schoolboy events of the year. My little brass cannon and hand-guns were very busy during that day. They were fired until they became quite hot. These were the pre-lucifer days. The fire to light the powder at the touch-hole was obtained by the use of a flint, a steel, and a tinder-box. The flint was struck sharply on the steel; a spark of fire fell into the tinderbox, and the match of hemp string, soaked in saltpetre, was readily lit, and fired off the little guns.
I carried on quite a trade in forging beautiful little steels. I forged them out of old files, which proved excellent material for the purpose. I filed them up into neat and correct forms, and then hardened and tempered them, secundum artem, at the little furnace stove in my father's workroom, where of course there were also a suitable anvil, hammer, and tongs. I often made potent use of these steels in escaping from the ordeal of some severe task imposed upon me at school. The schoolmaster often deputed his authority to the monitors to hear us say our lessons. But when I slyly exhibited a beautiful steel the monitor could not maintain his grim sense of duty, and he often let me escape the ordeal of repeating some passage from a Latin school-book by obtaining possession of the article. I thus bought myself off. This system of bribery and corruption was no doubt shockingly improper, but as I was not naturally endowed with the taste for learning Latin and Greek, I continued my little diplomatic tricks until I left school.
As I have said, I did not learn much at the High School. My mind was never opened up by what was taught me there. It was a mere matter of rote and cram. I learnt by heart a number of Latin rules and phrases, but what I learnt soon slipped from my memory. My young mind was tormented by the tasks set before me. At the same time my hungry mind thirsted for knowledge of another kind.
There was one thing, however, that I did learn at the High School. That was the blessings and advantages of friendship. There were several of my schoolfellows of a like disposition with myself, with whom I formed attachments which ended only with life. I may mention two of them in particular—Jemmy Patterson and Tom Smith. The former was the son of one of the largest iron founders in Edinburgh. He was kind, good, and intelligent. He and I were great cronies. He took me to his father's workshops. Nothing could have been more agreeable to my tastes. For there I saw how iron castings were made. Mill-work and steam-engines were repaired there, and I could see the way in which power was produced and communicated. To me it was a most instructive school of practical mechanics. Although I was only about thirteen at the time, I used to "lend a hand," in which hearty zeal made up for want of strength. I look back to these days, especially to the Saturday afternoons spent in the workshops of this admirably conducted iron foundry, as a most important part of my education as a mechanical engineer. I did not read about such things; for words were of little use. But I saw and handled, and thus all the ideas in connection with them became permanently rooted in my mind.
Each department of the iron foundry was superintended by an able and intelligent man, who was distinguished not only by his ability but for his steadiness and sobriety. The men were for the most part promoted to their fore-manship from the ranks, and had been brought up in the workshop from their boyhood. They possessed a strong individuality of character, and served their employer faithfully and loyally. One of these excellent men, with whom I was frequently brought into contact, was William Watson. He took special charge of all that related to the construction and repairs of steam-engines, water-wheels, and mill-work generally. He was a skilful designer and draughtsman, and an excellent pattern maker. His designs were drawn in a bold and distinct style, on large deal boards, and were passed into the hands of the mechanics to be translated by them into actual work. It was no small privilege to me to stand by, and now and then hold the end of the long straight edge, or by some humble but zealous genuine help of mine contribute to the progress of these substantial and most effective mechanical drawings. Watson explained to me, in the most common-sense manner, his reasons for the various forms, arrangements, and proportions of the details of his designs. He was an enthusiast on the subject of Euclid; and to see the beautiful problems applied by him in working out his excellent drawings was to me a lesson beyond all price.
Watson was effectively assisted by his two sons, who carried out their father's designs in constructing the wood patterns after which the foundry-men or moulders reproduced their forms in cast iron, while the smiths by their craft realised the wrought-iron portions. Those sons of Mr. Watson were of that special class of workmen called millwrights— a class now almost extinct, though many of the best known engineers originally belonged to them. They could work with equal effectiveness in wood or iron.
Another foreman in Mr. Patterson's foundry was called Lewis. He had special charge of the iron castings designed for architectural and ornamental purposes. He was a man of great taste and artistic feeling, and I was able even at that time to appreciate the beauty of his designs. One of the most original characters about the foundry, however, was Johnie Syme. He took charge of the old Boulton and Watt steam-engine, which gave motion to the machinery of the works. It also produced the blast for the Cupolas, in which the pig and cast iron scrap was daily melted and cast into the various objects produced in the foundry. Johnie was a complete incarnation of technical knowledge. He was the Jack-of-all-trades of the establishment; and the standing counsel in every out-of-the-way case of managing and overcoming mechanical difficulties. He was the superintendent of the boring machines. In those days the boring of a steam-engine cylinder was considered high art in excelsis! Patterson's firm was celebrated for the accuracy of its boring.
I owe Johnie Syme a special debt of gratitude, as it was he who first initiated me into that most important of all technical processes in practical mechanism—the art of hardening and temperinq steel. It is, perhaps, not saying too much to assert that the successful practice of the mechanical arts, by means of which man rises from the savage to the civilised state, is due to that wonderful change. Man began with wood, and stone, and bone; he proceeded to bronze and iron; but it was only by means of hardened steel that he could accomplish anything in arms, in agriculture, or in architecture. The instant hardening which occurs on plunging a red-hot piece of steel into cold water may well be described as mysterious. Even in these days, when science has defined the causes of so many phenomena, the reason of steel becoming hard on suddenly cooling it down from a red-heat, is a fact that no one has yet explained. The steel may be tempered by modifying the degree of heat to which it is afterwards subjected. It may thus be toughened by slightly reheating the hardened steel; the resoftening course is indicated by certain prismatic tints, which appear in a peculiar order of succession on its surface. The skilful artisan thus knows by experience the exact point at which it is necessary again to plunge it into cold water in order to secure the requisite combination of toughness and hardness to the steel required for his purposes.