Page images

duced of rustic Scottish life, or with the correct expressions which they have given to the sentiments of the shepherds and the hinds of Scotland.

66 In this volume, the author has obviously chosen a different strain of the same subjects. He has not attempted to describe individual scenes nor particular persons, nor the peculiar sentiments of any of the various classes into which the lower orders of the Scottish people are still divided, but has selected, with a poetical eye, certain graces and beauties that may here and there be found scattered among them all, and formed them into compositions of singular elegance and pathos. There are, indeed, few passages in descriptive poetry more finely conceived than this sketch of a snowy morning.”

“ It was on a fierce and howling winter day that I was crossing the dreary moor of Auchindown, on my way to the manse of that parish, a solitary pedestrian. The snow, which had been incessantly falling for a week past, was drifted into beautiful but dangerous wreaths, far and wide, over the melancholy expanse--and the scene kept visibly shifting before me, as the strong wind that blew from every point of the compass struck the dazzling masses, and heaved them up and down in endless transformation. There was something inspiriting in the labour with which, in the buoyant strength of youth, I forced my way through the storm--and I could not but enjoy those gleamings of sunlight that ever and anon burst through some unexpected opening in the sky, and gave a character of cheerfulness, and even warmth, to the sides or summits of the stricken hills. Sometimes the wind stopt of a sudden, and then the air was as silent as the snow_not a murmur to be heard from spring or stream, now all frozen up over those high moorlands. As the momentary cessations of the sharp drift allowed my eyes to look upwards and around, I saw here and there up the little opening valleys, cottages just visible beneath the black stems of their snowcovered clumps of trees, or beside some small spot of green pasture kept open for the sheep. These intimations of life and happiness came delightfully to me in the midst of the desolation ; and the barking of a dog, attending some shepherd in his quest on the hill, put fresh vigour into my limbs, telling me, that, lonely as I seemed to be, I was surrounded by cheerful though unseen company, and that I was not the only wanderer over the snows.

“ As I walked along, my mind was insensibly filled with a crowd of pleasant images of rural winter life, that helped me gladly onwards over many miles of moor. I thought of the severe but cheerful labours of the barn—the mending of farm-gear by the fire-sidethe wheel turned by the foot of old age, less for gain than as a thrifty pastime—the skilful mother making

auld claes look amaist as weel's the new-the ballad unconsciously listened to by the family all busy at their own tasks round the singing maiden—the old traditionary tale told by some wayfarer hospitably housed till the storm should blow by-thé unexpected visit of neighbours on need or friendship-or the footstep of lover undeterred by snow-drifts that have buried up his flocks ;-but, above all, I thought of those hours of religious worship that have not yet escaped from the domestic life of the peasantry of Scotland-of the sound of psalms that the depth 'of snow cannot deaden to the ear of Him to whom they are chanted—and of that sublime Sabbath-keeping which, on days too tempes. tuous for the kirk, changes the cottage of the shepherd into the temple of God.

“ With such glad and peaceful images in my heart, I travelled along that dreary moor, with the cutting wind in my face, and my feet sinking in the snow, or sliding on the hard blue ice beneath it—as cheerfully as I ever walked in the dewy warmth of a summer morning, through fields of fragrance and of flowers. And now I could discern, within half an hour's walk before me, the spire of the church, close to which stood the manse of my aged friend and benefactor. My heart burned within me as a sudden gleam of stormy sunlight tipt it with fire and I felt, at that moment, an inexpressible sense of the sublimity of the character of that greyheaded shepherd who had, for fifty years, abode in the wilderness, keeping together his own happy little flock.”

“And here is another of a summer-storm in the Highlands still more highly wrought; indeed, so very poetical, that the language in several places has all the sweetness and rhythm of verse."

“ An enormous thunder cloud had lain all day over Ben-Nevis, shrouding its summit in thick darkness, blackening its sides and base, wherever they were beheld from the surrounding country, with masses of deep shadow, and especially flinging down a weight of gloom upon that magnificent Glen that bears the same name with the mountain, till now the afternoon was like twilight, and the voice of all the streams was distinct in the breathlessness of the vast solitary hollow. The inhabitants of all the straths, vales, glens, and dells, round and about the monarch of Scottish mountains, had, during each successive hour, been expecting the roar of thunder and the deluge of rain ; but the huge conglomeration of lowering clouds would not rend asunder, although it was certain that a calm blue sky could not be restored till all that dreadful assemblage had melted away into torrents, or been driven off by a strong wind from the sea. All the cattle on the hills, and on the hollows, stood still or lay down in their fear,--the wild deer sought in herds the shelter of the pine-covered cliffs—the raven hushed his hoarse croak in some grim cavern, and the eagle left the dreadful silence of the upper heavens. Now and then the shepherds looked from their huts, while the shadow of the thunder-clouds deepened the hues of their plaids and tartans; and at every creaking of the heavy branches of the pines, or wide-armed oaks, in the solitude of their inaccessible birth-place, the hearts of the lonely dwellers quaked, and they lifted up their eyes to see the first wide flash--the disparting of the masses of darknessand paused to hear the long loud rattle of heaven's artillery shaking the foundation of the everlasting mountains. But all was yet silent.

“ The peal came at last, and it seemed as if an earth quake had smote the silence. Not a tree-not a blade of grass moved, but the blow stunned, as it were, the heart of the solid globe. Then was there a low, wild, whispering, wailing voice, as of many spirits all joining together from every point of heaven,-it died awayand then the rushing of rain was heard through the darkness; and, in a few minutes down came all the mountain torrents in their power, and the sides of all the steeps were suddenly sheeted, far and wide, with waterfalls. The element of water was let loose to run its rejoicing race and that of fire lent it illumination, whether sweeping in floods along the great open straths, or tumbling in cataracts from cliffs overhanging the eagle's eyrie.

“ Great rivers suddenly flooded--and the little mountain-rivulets, a few minutes before only silver threads, and in whose fairy basins the minnow played, were now scarcely fordable to shepherds' feet. It was time for the strongest to take shelter, and none now would

have liked to issue from it; for while there was real danger to life and limb in the many raging torrents, and in the lightning's flash, the imagination and the soul themselves were touched with awe in the long resounding glens, and beneath the savage scowl of the angry sky.

“ It was not a time to be abroad; yet all by herself was hastening down Glen-Nevis, from a shealing far up the river, a little girl, not more than twelve years of age-in truth, a very child. Grief and fear, not for herself, but for another, bore her along as upon wings, through the storm; she crossed rivulets from which, on any other occasion, she should have turned back trembling; and she did not even hear many of the crashes of thunder that smote the smoking hills. Sometimes at a fiercer flash of lightning she just lifted her hand to her dazzled eyes, and then, unappalled, hurried on through the hot and sulphureous air. Had she been a maiden of that tender age from village or city, her course would soon have been fatally stopt short; but she had been born among the hills, had first learned to walk among the heather, holding by its blooming branches, and many and many a solitary mile had she tripped, young as she was, over moss and moor, glen and mountain, even like the roe that had its lair in the coppice beside her own beloved shealing."

« PreviousContinue »