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IN CARLYLE'S COUNTRY
IN crossing the sea a second time, I was more curious to see Scotland than England, partly because I had had a good glimpse of the latter country eleven years before, but largely because I had always preferred the Scotch people to the English (I had seen and known more of them in my youth), and especially because just then I was much absorbed with Carlyle, and wanted to see with my own eyes the land and the race from which he sprang.
I suspect anyhow I am more strongly attracted by the Celt than by the Anglo-Saxon; at least by the individual Celt. Collectively the Anglo-Saxon is the more impressive; his triumphs are greater; the face of his country and of his cities is the more pleasing; the gift of empire is his. Yet there can be no doubt, I think, that the Celts, at least the Scotch Celts, are a more hearty, cordial, and hospitable people than the English; they have more curiosity, more raciness, and quicker and surer sympathies. They fuse and blend readily with another people, which the English seldom do. In this country John Bull is usually like a pebble in the clay; grind him and press him and bake him as you will, he is still a pebble — a hard spot in the brick, but not essentially a part of it.
Every close view I got of the Scotch character confirmed my liking for it. A most pleasant episode happened to me down in Ayr. A young man whom I stumbled on by chance in a little wood by the Doon, during some conversation about the birds that were singing around us, quoted my own name to me. This led to an acquaintance with the family and with the parish minister, and gave a genuine human coloring to our brief sojourn in Burns's country. In Glasgow I had an inside view of a household a little lower in the social scale, but high in the scale of virtues and excellences. I climbed up many winding stone stairs and found the family in three or four rooms on the top floor: a father, mother, three sons, two of them grown, and a daughter, also grown. The father and the sons worked in an iron foundry near by. I broke bread with them around the table in the little cluttered kitchen, and was spared apologies as much as if we had been seated at a banquet in a baronial hall. A Bible chapter was read after we were seated at table, each member of the family reading a verse alternately. When the meal was over, we went into the next room, where all joined in singing some Scotch songs, mainly from Burns. One of the sons possessed the finest bass voice I had ever listened to. Its power was simply tremendous, well tempered with the Scotch raciness and tenderness, too. He had taken the first prize at a public singing bout, open to competition to all of Scotland. I told his mother, who also had a voice of wonderful sweetness, that such a gift would make her son's fortune anywhere, and found that the subject was the cause of much anxiety to her. She feared lest it should be the ruination of him — lest he should prostitute it to the service of the devil, as she put it, rather than use it to the glory of God. She said she had rather follow him to his grave than see him in the opera or concert hall, singing for money. She wanted him to stick to his work, and use his voice only as a pious and sacred gift. When I asked the young man to come land sing for us at the hotel, the mother was greatly troubled, as she afterward told me, till she learned we were stopping at a temperance house. But the young man seemed not at all inclined to break away from the advice of his mother. The other son had a sweetheart who had gone to America, and he was looking longingly thitherward. He showed me her picture, and did not at all attempt to conceal from me, or from his family, his interest in the original. Indeed, one would have said there were no secrets or concealments in such a family, and the thorough unaffected piety of the whole household, mingled with so much that was human and racy and canny, made an impression upon me I shall not soon forget. This family was probably an exceptional one, but it tinges all my recollections of smoky, tall-chimneyed Glasgow.
A Scotch trait of quite another sort, and more suggestive of Burns than of Carlyle, was briefly summarized in an item of statistics which I used to read in one of the Edinburgh papers every Monday morning, namely, that of the births registered during the previous week, invariably from ten to twelve per cent, were illegitimate. The Scotch — all classes of them — love Burns deep down in their hearts, because he has expressed them, from the roots up, as none other has.
When I think of Edinburgh, the vision that comes before my mind's eye is of a city presided over, and shone upon, as it were, by two green treeless heights. Arthur's Seat is like a great irregular orb or half-orb, rising above the near horizon there in the southeast, and dominating city and country with its unbroken verdancy. Its greenness seems almost to pervade the air itself — a slight radiance of grass, there in the eastern skies. No description of Edinburgh I had read had prepared me for the striking hill features that look down upon it. There is a series of three hills which culminate in Arthur's Seat, 800 feet high. Upon the first and smaller hill stands the Castle. This is a craggy, precipitous rock, on three sides, but sloping down into a broad gentle expanse toward the east, where the old city of Edinburgh is mainly built, — as if it had flowed out of the Castle as out of a fountain, and spread over the adjacent ground. Just beyond the point where it ceases rise Salisbury Crags to a height of 570 feet, turning to the city a sheer wall of rocks like the Palisades of the Hudson. From its brink eastward again, the ground slopes in a broad expanse of greensward to a valley called Hunter's Bog, where I thought the hunters were very quiet and very numerous until I saw they were city riflemen engaged in target practice; thence it rises irregularly to the crest of Arthur's Seat, forming the pastoral eminence and green-shining disk to which I have referred. Along the crest of Salisbury Crags the thick turf comes to the edge of the precipices, as one might stretch a carpet. It is so firm and compact that the boys cut their initials in it, on a large scale, with their jack-knives, as in the bark of a tree. Arthur's Seat was a favorite walk of Carlyle's during those gloomy days in Edinburgh in 1820-21. It was a mount of vision to him, and he apparently went there every day when the weather permitted.1
There was no road in Scotland or England which I should have been so glad to walk over as that from Edinburgh to Ecclefechan, — a distance covered many times by the feet of him whose birth and burial-place I was about to visit. Carlyle as a young man had walked it with Edward Irving (the Scotch say "travel" when they mean going afoot), and he had walked it alone, and as a lad with an elder boy, on his way to Edinburgh college. He says in his "Reminiscences" he nowhere else had such affectionate, sad, thoughtful, and, in fact, interesting and salutary journeys. "No company to you but the rustle of the grass under foot, the tinkling of the brook, or the voices of innocent, primeval things." "I have had days as clear as Italy [as in this Irving case]; days moist and dripping, overhung with the infinite of silent gray, — and perhaps the latter were the preferable, in certain moods. You had the world and its waste imbroglios of joy and woe, of light and darkness, to yourself alone. You could strip barefoot, if it suited better; carry shoes and socks over shoulder, hung on your stick; clean shirt and comb were in your pocket; omnia mea mecum porto. You lodged with shepherds, who had clean, solid cottages; wholesome eggs, milk, oatmeal porridge, clean blankets to their beds, and a great deal of human sense and unadulterated natural politeness."
But how can one walk a hundred miles in cool blood without a companion, especially when the trains run every hour, and he has a surplus sovereign in his pocket? One saves time and consults his ease by riding, but he thereby misses the real savor of the land. And the roads of this compact little kingdom are so inviting, like a hard, smooth surface covered with sand-paper! How easily the foot puts them behind it! And the summer weather, — what a fresh under-stratum the air has even on the warmest days! Every breath one draws has a cool, invigorating core to it, as if there might be some unmelted, or just melted, frost not far off.
But as we did not walk, there was satisfaction in knowing that the engine which took our train down from Edinburgh was named Thomas Carlyle. The cognomen looked well on the toiling, fiery-hearted, iron-browed monster. I think its original owner would have contemplated it with grim pleasure, especially since he confesses to having spent some time, once, in trying to look up a shipmaster who had named his vessel for him. Here was a hero after his own sort, a leader by the divine right of the expansive power of steam.
The human faculties of observation have not yet adjusted themselves to the flying train. Steam has clapped wings to our shoulders without the power to soar; we get bird's-eye views without the bird's eyes or the bird's elevation, distance without breadth, detail without mass. If such speed only gave us a proportionate extent of view, if this leisure of the eye were only mated to an equal leisure in the glance! Indeed, when one thinks of it, how near railway traveling, as a means of seeing a country, comes, except in the discomforts of it, to being no traveling at all! It is like being tied to your chair, and being jolted and shoved about at home. The landscape is turned topsy-turvy. The eye sustains unnatural relations to all but the most distant objects. We move in an arbitrary plane, and seldom is anything seen from the proper point, or with the proper sympathy of coordinate position. We shall have to wait for the air-ship to give us the triumph over space in which the eye can share. Of this flight south from Edinburgh on that bright summer day, I keep only the most general impression. I recall how clean and naked the country looked, lifted up in broad hill-slopes, naked of forests and trees and weedy, bushy growths, and of everything that would hide or obscure its unbroken verdancy, — the one impression that of a universe of grass, as in the arctic regions it might be one of snow; the mountains, pastoral solitudes; the vales, emerald vistas.
Not to be entirely cheated out of my walk, I left the train at Lockerbie, a small Scotch market town, and accomplished the remainder of the journey to Ecclefechan on foot, a brief six-mile pull. It was the first day of June; the afternoon sun was shining brightly. It was still the honeymoon of travel with me, not yet two weeks in the bonnie land; the road was smooth and clean as the floor of a sea beach, and firmer, and my feet devoured the distance with right good will. The first red clover had just bloomed, as I probably should have found it that day had I taken a walk at home; but, like the people I met, it had a ruddier cheek than it has at home. I observed it on other occasions, and later in the season, and noted that it had more color than in this country, and held its bloom longer. All grains and grasses ripen slower there than here, the season is so much longer and cooler. The pink and ruddy tints are more common in the flowers also. The bloom of the blackberry is often of a decided pink, and certain white, umbelliferous plants, like yarrow, have now and then a rosy tinge. The little white daisy ("gowan," the Scotch call it) is tipped with crimson, foretelling the scarlet poppies, with which the grain-fields will by and by be splashed. Prunella (self-heal), also, is of a deeper purple than with us, and a species of cranesbill, like our wild geranium, is of a much deeper and stronger color. On the other hand, their ripened fruits and foliage of autumn pale their ineffectual colors beside our own.
Among the farm occupations, that which most took my eye, on this and on other occasions, was the furrowing of the land for turnips and potatoes; it is done with such absolute precision. It recalled Emerson's statement that the fields in this island look as if finished with a pencil instead of a plow, — a pencil and a ruler in this case, the lines were so straight and so uniform. I asked a farmer at work by the roadside how he managed it. "Ah," said he, "a Scotchman's head is level." Both here and in England, plowing is studied like a fine art; they have plowing matches, and offer prizes for the best furrow. In planting both potatoes and turnips the ground is treated alike, grubbed, plowed, cross-plowed, crushed, harrowed, chain-harrowed, and rolled. Every sod and tuft of uprooted grass is carefully picked up by women and boys, and burned or carted away; leaving the surface of the ground like a clean sheet of paper, upon which the plowman is now to inscribe his perfect lines. The plow is drawn by two horses; it is a long, heavy tool, with double mould-boards, and throws the earth each way. In opening the first furrow the plowman is guided by stakes; having got this one perfect, it is used as the model for every subsequent one, and the land is thrown into ridges as uniform and faultless as if it had been stamped at one stroke with a die, or cast in a mould. It is so from one end of the island to the other; the same expert seems to have done the work in every plowed and planted field.
Four miles from Lockerbie I came to Mainhill, the name of a farm where the Carlyle family lived many years, and where Carlyle first read Goethe, "in a dry ditch," Froude says, and translated "Wilhelm Meister." The land drops gently away to the south and east, opening up broad views in these directions, but it does not seem to be the bleak and windy place Froude describes it. The crops looked good, and the fields smooth and fertile. The soil is rather a stubborn clay, nearly the same as one sees everywhere. A sloping field adjoining the highway was being got ready for turnips. The ridges had been cast; the farmer, a courteous but serious and reserved man, was sprinkling some commercial fertilizer in the furrows from a bag slung across his shoulders, while a boy, with a horse and cart, was depositing stable manure in the same furrows, which a lassie, in clogs and short skirts, was evenly distributing with a fork. Certain work in Scotch fields always seems to be done by women and girls, — spreading manure, pulling weeds, and picking up sods, — while they take an equal hand with the men in the hay and harvest fields.
The Carlyles were living on this farm while their son was teaching school at Annan, and later at Kirkcaldy with Irving, and they supplied him with cheese, butter, ham, oatmeal, etc., from their scanty stores. A new farmhouse has been built since then, though the old one is still standing; doubtless the same Carlyle's father refers to in a letter to his son, in 1817, as being under way. The parish minister was expected at Mainhill. "Your mother was very anxious to have the house done before he came, or else she said she would run over the hill and hide herself."
From Mainhill the highway descends slowly to the village of Ecclefechan, the site of which is marked to the eye, a mile or more away, by the spire of the church rising up against a background of Scotch firs, which clothe a hill beyond. I soon entered the main street of the village, which in Carlyle's youth had an open burn or creek flowing through the centre of it. This has been covered over by some enterprising citizen, and instead of a loitering little burn, crossed by numerous bridges, the eye is now greeted by a broad expanse of small cobble-stone. The cottages are for the most part very humble, and rise from the outer edges of the pavement, as if the latter had been turned up and shaped to make their walls. The church is a handsome brown stone structure, of recent date, and is more in keeping with the fine fertile country about than with the little village in its front. In the cemetery back of it, Carlyle lies buried. As I approached, a girl sat by the roadside, near the gate, combing her black locks and arranging her toilet; waiting, as it proved, for her mother and brother, who lingered in the village. A couple of boys were cutting nettles against the hedge; for the pigs, they said, after the sting had been taken out of them by boiling. Across the street from the cemetery the cows of the villagers were grazing.
I must have thought it would be as easy to distinguish Carlyle's grave from the others as it was to distinguish the man while living, or his fame when dead; for it never occurred to me to ask in what part of the inclosure it was placed. Hence, when I found myself inside the gate, which opens from the Annan road through a high stone wall, I followed the most worn path toward a new and imposing-looking monument on the far side of the cemetery; and the edge of my fine emotion was a good deal dulled against the marble when I found it bore a strange name. I tried others, and still others, but was disappointed. I found a long row of Carlyles, but he whom I sought was not among them. My pilgrim enthusiasm felt itself needlessly hindered and chilled. How many rebuffs could one stand? Carlyle dead, then, was the same as Carlyle living; sure to take you down a peg or two when you came to lay your homage at his feet.
Presently I saw "Thomas Carlyle" on a big marble slab that stood in a family inclosure. But this turned out to be the name of a nephew of the great Thomas. However, I had struck the right plat at last; here were the Carlyles I was looking for, within a space probably of eight by sixteen feet, surrounded by a high iron fence. The latest made grave was higher and fuller than the rest, but it had no stone or mark of any kind to distinguish it. Since my visit, I believe, a stone or monument of some kind has been put up. A few daisies and the pretty blue-eyed speedwell were growing amid the grass upon it. The great man lies with his head toward the south or southwest, with his mother, sister, and father to the right of him, and his brother John to the left. I was glad to learn that the high iron fence was not his own suggestion. His father had put it around the family plat in his lifetime. Carlyle would have liked to have had it cut down about halfway. The whole look of this cemetery, except in the extraordinary size of the headstones, was quite American, it being back of the church, and separated from it, a kind of mortuary garden, instead of surrounding it and running under it, as is the case with the older churches. I noted here, as I did elsewhere, that the custom prevails of putting the trade or occupation of the deceased upon his stone: So-and-So, mason, or tailor, or carpenter, or farmer, etc.
A young man and his wife were working in a nursery of young trees, a few paces from the graves, and I conversed with them through a thin place in the hedge. They said they had seen Carlyle many times, and seemed to hold him in proper esteem and reverence. The young man had seen him come in summer and stand, with uncovered head, beside the graves of his father and mother. "And long and reverently did he remain there, too," said the young gardener. I learned this was Carlyle's invariable custom: every summer did he make a pilgrimage to this spot, and with bared head linger beside these graves. The last time he came, which was a couple of years before he died, he was so feeble that two persons sustained him while he walked into the cemetery. This observance recalls a passage from his "Past and Present." Speaking of the religious custom of the Emperor of China, he says, "He and his three hundred millions (it is their chief punctuality) visit yearly the Tombs of their Fathers; each man the Tomb of his Father and his Mother; alone there in silence with what of 'worship' or of other thought there may be, pauses solemnly each man; the divine Skies all silent over him; the divine Graves, and this divinest Grave, all silent under him; the pulsings of his own soul, if he have any soul, alone audible. Truly it may be a kind of worship! Truly, if a man cannot get some glimpse into the Eternities, looking through this portal, — through what other need he try it?"
Carlyle's reverence and affection for his kindred were among his most beautiful traits, and make up in some measure for the contempt he felt toward the rest of mankind. The family stamp was never more strongly set upon a man, and no family ever had a more original, deeply cut pattern than that of the Carlyles. Generally, in great men who emerge from obscure peasant homes, the genius of the family takes an enormous leap, or is completely metamorphosed; but Carlyle keeps all the paternal lineaments unfaded; he is his father and his mother, touched to finer issues. That wonderful speech of his sire, which all who knew him feared, has lost nothing in the son, but is tremendously augmented, and cuts like a Damascus sword, or crushes like a sledge-hammer. The strongest and finest paternal traits have survived in him. Indeed, a little congenital rill seems to have come all the way down from the old vikings. Carlyle is not merely Scotch; he is Norselandic. There is a marked Scandinavian flavor in him; a touch, or more than a touch, of the rude, brawling, bullying, hard-hitting, wrestling viking times. The hammer of Thor antedates the hammer of his stone-mason sire in him. He is Scotland, past and present, moral and physical. John Knox and the Covenanters survive in him: witness his religious zeal, his depth and solemnity of conviction, his strugglings and agonizings, his "conversion." Ossian survives in him: behold that melancholy retrospect, that gloom, that melodious wail. And especially, as I have said, do his immediate ancestors survive in him, — his sturdy, toiling, fiery-tongued, clannish yeoman progenitors: all are summed up here; this is the net result available for literature in the nineteenth century.
Carlyle's heart was always here in Scotland. A vague, yearning homesickness seemed ever to possess him. "The Hill I first saw the Sun rise over," he says in "Past and Present," "when the Sun and I and all things were yet in their auroral hour, who can divorce me from it? Mystic, deep as the world's centre, are the roots I have struck into my Native Soil; no tree that grows is rooted so." How that mournful retrospective glance haunts his pages! His race, generation upon generation, had toiled and wrought here amid the lonely moors, had wrestled with poverty and privation, had wrung the earth for a scanty subsistence, till they had become identified with the soil, kindred with it. How strong the family ties had grown in the struggle; how the sentiment of home was fostered! Then the Carlyles were men who lavished their heart and conscience upon their work; they builded themselves, their days, their thoughts and sorrows, into their houses; they leavened the soil with the sweat of their rugged brows. When James Carlyle, his father, after a lapse of fifty years, saw Auldgarth bridge, upon which he had worked as a lad, he was deeply moved. When Carlyle in his turn saw it, and remembered his father and all he had told him, he also was deeply moved. "It was as if half a century of past time had fatefully for moments turned back." Whatever these men touched with their hands in honest toil became sacred to them, a page out of their own lives. A silent, inarticulate kind of religion they put into their work. All this bore fruit in their distinguished descendant. It gave him that reverted, half mournful gaze; the ground was hallowed behind him; his dead called to him from their graves. Nothing deepens and intensifies family traits like poverty and toil and suffering. It is the furnace heat that brings out the characters, the pressure that makes the strata perfect. One recalls Carlyle's grandmother getting her children up late at night, his father one of them, to break their long fast with oaten cakes from the meal that had but just arrived; making the fire from straw taken from their beds. Surely, such things reach the springs of being.
It seemed eminently fit that Carlyle's dust should rest here in his native soil, with that of his kindred, he was so thoroughly one of them, and that his place should be next his mother's, between whom and himself there existed such strong affection. I recall a little glimpse he gives of his mother in a letter to his brother John, while the latter was studying in Germany. His mother had visited him in Edinburgh. "I had her," he writes, "at the pier of Leith, and showed her where your ship vanished; and she looked over the blue waters eastward with wettish eyes, and asked the dumb waves 'when he would be back again.' Good mother."
To see more of Ecclefechan and its people, and to browse more at my leisure about the country, I brought my wife and youngster down from Lockerbie; and we spent several days there, putting up at the quiet and cleanly little Bush Inn. I tramped much about the neighborhood, noting the birds, the wild flowers, the people, the farm occupations, etc.; going one afternoon to Scotsbrig, where the Carlyles lived after they left Mainhill, and where both father and mother died; one day to Annan, another to Repentance Hill, another over the hill toward Kirtlebridge, tasting the land, and finding it good. It is an evidence of how permanent and unchanging things are here that the house where Carlyle was born eighty-seven years ago, and which his father built, stands just as it did then, and looks good for several hundred years more. In going up to the little room where he first saw the light, one ascends the much-worn but original stone stairs, and treads upon the original stone floors. I suspect that even the window panes in the little window remain the same. The village is a very quiet and humble one, paved with small cobble-stone, over which one hears the clatter of the wooden clogs, the same as in Carlyle's early days. The pavement comes quite up to the low, modest, stone-floored houses, and one steps from the street directly into the most of them. When an Englishman or a Scotchman of the humbler ranks builds a house in the country, he either turns its back upon the highway, or places it several rods distant from it with sheds or stables between; or else he surrounds it with a high, massive fence, shutting out your view entirely. In the village he crowds it to the front; continues the street pavement into his hall, if he can; allows no fence or screen between it and the street, but makes the communication between the two as easy and open as possible. At least this is the case with most of the older houses. Hence village houses and cottages in Britain are far less private and secluded than ours, and country houses far less public. The only feature of Ecclefechan, besides the church, that distinguishes it from the humblest peasant village of a hundred years ago, is the large, fine stone structure used for the public school. It confers a sort of distinction upon the place, as if it were in some way connected with the memory of its famous son. I think I was informed that he had some hand in founding it. The building in which he first attended school is a low, humble dwelling, that now stands behind the church, and forms part of the boundary between the cemetery and the Annan road.
From our window I used to watch the laborers on their way to their
work, the children going to school, or to the pump for water, and night
and morning the women bringing in their cows from the pasture to be
milked. In the long June gloaming the evening milking was not done till
about nine o'clock. On two occasions, the first in a brisk rain, a
bedraggled, forlorn, deeply-hooded, youngish woman came slowly through the
street, pausing here and there, and singing in wild, melancholy, and not
unpleasing strains. Her voice had a strange piercing plaintiveness and
wildness. Now and then some passer-by would toss a penny at her feet. The
pretty Edinburgh lass, her hair redder than Scotch gold, that waited upon
us at the inn, went out in the rain and put a penny in her hand. After a
few pennies had been collected the music would stop, and the singer
disappear, — to drink up her gains, I half suspect, but do not know. I
noticed that she was never treated with rudeness or disrespect. The boys
would pause and regard her occasionally, but made no remark, or gesture,
or grimace. One afternoon a traveling show pitched its tent in the broader
part of the street, and by diligent grinding of a hand-organ summoned all
the children of the place to see the wonders. The admission was one penny,
and I went with the rest, and saw the little man, the big dog, the happy
family, and the gaping, dirty-faced, but orderly crowd of boys and girls.
The Ecclefechan boys, with some of whom I tried, not very successfully, to
scrape an acquaintance, I found a sober, quiet, modest set, shy of
strangers, and, like all country boys, incipient naturalists. If you want
to know where the birds'-nests are, ask the boys. Hence, one Sunday
afternoon, meeting a couple of them on the Annan road, I put the inquiry.
They looked rather blank and unresponsive at first; but I made them
understand I was in earnest, and wished to be shown some nests. To
stimulate their ornithology I offered a penny for the first nest,
two-pence for the second, three-pence for the third, etc., — a reward
that, as it turned out, lightened my burden of British copper
considerably; for these boys appeared to know every nest in the
neighborhood, and I suspect had just then been making Sunday calls upon
their feathered friends. They turned about, with a bashful smile, but
without a word, and marched me a few paces along the road, when they
stepped to the hedge, and showed me a hedge-sparrow's nest with young. The
mother bird was near, with food in her beak. This nest is a great favorite
of the cuckoo, and is the one to which Shakespeare refers: —
The bird is not a sparrow at all, but is a warbler, closely related to
the nightingale. Then they conducted me along a pretty by-road, and parted
away the branches, and showed me a sparrow's nest with eggs in it. A group
of wild pansies, the first I had seen, made bright the bank near it. Next,
after conferring a moment soberly together, they took me to a robin's
nest, — a warm, mossy structure in the side of the bank. Then we wheeled
up another road, and they disclosed the nest of the yellow yite, or
yellow-hammer, a bird of the sparrow kind, also upon the ground. It seemed
to have a little platform of coarse, dry stalks, like a door-stone, in
front of it. In the mean time they had showed me several nests of
the hedge-sparrow, and one of the shilfa, or chaffinch, that had been
"harried," as the boys said, or robbed. These were gratuitous and merely
by the way. Then they pointed out to me the nest of a tomtit in a disused
pump that stood near the cemetery; after which they proposed to
conduct me to a chaffinch's nest and a blackbird's nest; but I said
I had already seen several of these and my curiosity was satisfied. Did
they know any others? Yes, several of them; beyond the village, on
the Middlebie road, they knew a wren's nest with eighteen eggs in
it. Well, I would see that, and that would be enough; the coppers
were changing pockets too fast. So through the village we went, and along
the Middlebie road for nearly a mile. The boys were as grave and silent as
if they were attending a funeral; not a remark, not a smile. We walked
rapidly. The afternoon was warm, for Scotland, and the tips of their ears
glowed through their locks, as they wiped their brows. I began to feel as
if I had had about enough walking myself. "Boys, how much farther is
it?" I said. "A wee bit farther, sir;" and presently, by their
increasing pace, I knew we were nearing it. It proved to be the nest of
the willow wren, or willow warbler, an exquisite structure, with a dome or
canopy above it, the cavity lined with feathers and crowded with eggs. But
it did not contain eighteen. The boys said they had been told that the
bird would lay as many as eighteen eggs; but it is the common wren that
lays this number, — even more. What struck me most was the gravity and
silent earnestness of the boys. As we walked back they showed me more
nests that had been harried. The elder boy's name was Thomas. He had heard
of Thomas Carlyle; but when I asked him what he thought of him, he only
looked awkwardly upon the ground.
The Drinking Pool
I had less trouble to get the opinion of an old road-mender whom I fell in with one day. I was walking toward Repentance Hill, when he overtook me with his "machine" (all road vehicles in Scotland are called machines), and insisted upon my getting up beside him. He had a little white pony, "twenty-one years old, sir," and a heavy, rattling two-wheeler, quite as old I should say. We discoursed about roads. Had we good roads in America? No? Had we no "metal" there, no stone? Plenty of it, I told him, — too much; but we had not learned the art of road-making yet. Then he would have to come "out" and show us; indeed, he had been seriously thinking about it; he had an uncle in America, but had lost all track of him. He had seen Carlyle many a time, "but the people here took no interest in that man," he said; "he never done nothing for this place." Referring to Carlyle's ancestors, he said, "The Cairls were what we Scotch call bullies, — a set of bullies, sir. If you crossed their path, they would murder you;" and then came out some highly-colored tradition of the "Ecclefechan dog fight," which Carlyle refers to in his Reminiscences. On this occasion, the old road-mender said, the "Cairls" had clubbed together, and bullied and murdered half the people of the place! "No, sir, we take no interest in that man here," and he gave the pony a sharp punch with his stub of a whip. But he himself took a friendly interest in the schoolgirls whom we overtook along the road, and kept picking them up till the cart was full, and giving the "lassies" a lift on their way home. Beyond Annan bridge we parted company, and a short walk brought me to Repentance Hill, a grassy eminence that commands a wide prospect toward the Solway. The tower which stands on the top is one of those interesting relics of which this land is full, and all memory and tradition of the use and occasion of which are lost. It is a rude stone structure, about thirty feet square and forty high, pierced by a single door, with the word "Repentance" cut in Old English letters in the lintel over it. The walls are loopholed here and there for musketry or archery. An old disused graveyard surrounds it, and the walls of a little chapel stand in the rear of it. The conies have their holes under it; some lord, whose castle lies in the valley below, has his flagstaff upon it; and Time's initials are scrawled on every stone. A piece of mortar probably three or four hundred years old, that had fallen from its place, I picked up, and found nearly as hard as the stone, and quite as gray and lichen-covered. Returning, I stood some time on Annan bridge, looking over the parapet into the clear, swirling water, now and then seeing a trout leap. Whenever the pedestrian comes to one of these arched bridges, he must pause and admire, it is so unlike what he is acquainted with at home. It is a real viaduct; it conducts not merely the traveler over, it conducts the road over as well. Then an arched bridge is ideally perfect; there is no room for criticism, — not one superfluous touch or stroke; every stone tells, and tells entirely. Of a piece of architecture, we can say this or that, but of one of these old bridges this only: it satisfies every sense of the mind. It has the beauty of poetry, and the precision of mathematics. The older bridges, like this over the Annan, are slightly hipped, so that the road rises gradually from either side to the key of the arch; this adds to their beauty, and makes them look more like things of life. The modern bridges are all level on the top, which increases their utility. Two laborers, gossiping on the bridge, said I could fish by simply going and asking leave of some functionary about the castle.
Shakespeare says of the martlet, that it
"Builds in the weather on the outward wall,
Even in the force and road of casualty."
I noticed that a pair had built their nest on an iron bracket under the eaves of a building opposite our inn, which proved to be in the "road of casualty;" for one day the painters began scraping the building, preparatory to giving it a new coat of paint, and the "procreant cradle" was knocked down. The swallows did not desert the place, however, but were at work again next morning before the painters were. The Scotch, by the way, make a free use of paint. They even paint their tombstones. Most of them, I observed, were brown stones painted white. Carlyle's father once sternly drove the painters from his door when they had been summoned by the younger members of his family to give the house a coat "o' pent." "Ye can jist pent the bog wi' yer ashbaket feet, for ye'll pit nane o' yer glaur on ma door." But the painters have had their revenge at last, and their "glaur" now covers the old man's tombstone.
One day I visited a little overgrown cemetery about a mile below the village, toward Kirtlebridge, and saw many of the graves of the old stock of Carlyles, among them some of Carlyle's uncles. This name occurs very often in those old cemeteries; they were evidently a prolific and hardy race. The name Thomas is a favorite one among them, insomuch that I saw the graves and headstones of eight Thomas Carlyles in the two graveyards. The oldest Carlyle tomb I saw was that of one John Carlyle, who died in 1692. The inscription upon his stone is as follows: —
"Heir Lyes John Carlyle of Penerssaughs, who departed this life ye 17 of May 1692, and of age 72, and His Spouse Jannet Davidson, who departed this life Febr. ye 7, 1708, and of age 73. Erected by John, his son."
The old sexton, whom I frequently saw in the churchyard, lives in the Carlyle house. He knew the family well, and had some amusing and characteristic anecdotes to relate of Carlyle's father, the redoubtable James, mainly illustrative of his bluntness and plainness of speech. The sexton pointed out, with evident pride, the few noted graves the churchyard held; that of the elder Peel being among them. He spoke of many of the oldest graves as "extinct;" nobody owned or claimed them; the name had disappeared, and the ground was used a second time. The ordinary graves in these old burying-places appear to become "extinct" in about two hundred years. It was very rare to find a date older than that. He said the "Cairls" were a peculiar set; there was nobody like them. You would know them, man and woman, as soon as they opened their mouths to speak; they spoke as if against a stone wall. (Their words hit hard.) This is somewhat like Carlyle's own view of his style. "My style," he says in his note-book, when he was thirty-eight years of age, "is like no other man's. The first sentence bewrays me." Indeed, Carlyle's style, which has been so criticised, was as much a part of himself, and as little an affectation, as his shock of coarse yeoman hair and bristly beard and bleared eyes were a part of himself; he inherited them. What Taine calls his barbarisms was his strong mason sire cropping out. He was his father's son to the last drop of his blood, a master builder working with might and main. No more did the former love to put a rock face upon his wall than did the latter to put the same rock face upon his sentences; and he could do it, too, as no other writer, ancient or modern, could.
I occasionally saw strangers at the station, which is a mile from the village, inquiring their way to the churchyard; but I was told there had been a notable falling off of the pilgrims and visitors of late. During the first few months after his burial, they nearly denuded the grave of its turf; but after the publication of the Reminiscences, the number of silly geese that came there to crop the grass was much fewer. No real lover of Carlyle was ever disturbed by those Reminiscences; but to the throng that run after a man because he is famous, and that chip his headstone or carry away the turf above him when he is dead, they were happily a great bugaboo. A most agreeable walk I took one day down to Annan. Irving's name still exists there, but I believe all his near kindred have disappeared. Across the street from the little house where he was born this sign may be seen: "Edward Irving, Flesher." While in Glasgow, I visited Irving's grave, in the crypt of the cathedral, a most dismal place, and was touched to see the bronze tablet that marked its site in the pavement bright and shining, while those about it, of Sir this or Lady that, were dull and tarnished. Did some devoted hand keep it scoured, or was the polishing done by the many feet that paused thoughtfully above this name? Irving would long since have been forgotten by the world had it not been for his connection with Carlyle, and it was probably the lustre of the latter's memory that I saw reflected in the metal that bore Irving's name. The two men must have been of kindred genius in many ways, to have been so drawn to each other, but Irving had far less hold upon reality; his written word has no projectile force. It makes a vast difference whether you burn gunpowder on a shovel or in a gun-barrel. Irving may be said to have made a brilliant flash, and then to have disappeared in the smoke.
Some men are like nails, easily drawn; others are like rivets, not drawable at all. Carlyle is a rivet, well headed in. He is not going to give way, and be forgotten soon. People who differed from him in opinion have stigmatized him as an actor, a mountebank, a rhetorician; but he was committed to his purpose and to the part he played with the force of gravity. Behold how he toiled! He says, "One monster there is in the world, — the idle man." He did not merely preach the gospel of work; he was it, — an indomitable worker from first to last. How he delved! How he searched for a sure foundation, like a master builder, fighting his way through rubbish and quicksands till he reached the rock! Each of his review articles cost him a month or more of serious work. "Sartor Resartus" cost him nine months, the "French Revolution" three years, "Cromwell" four years, "Frederick" thirteen years. No surer does the Auldgarth bridge, that his father helped build, carry the traveler over the turbulent water beneath it, than these books convey the reader over chasms and confusions, where before there was no way, or only an inadequate one. Carlyle never wrote a book except to clear some gulf or quagmire, to span and conquer some chaos. No architect or engineer ever had purpose more tangible and definite. To further the reader on his way, not to beguile or amuse him, was always his purpose. He had that contempt for all dallying and toying and lightness and frivolousness that hard, serious workers always have. He was impatient of poetry and art; they savored too much of play and levity. His own work was not done lightly and easily, but with labor throes and pains, as of planting his piers in a weltering flood and chaos. The spirit of struggling and wrestling which he had inherited was always uppermost. It seems as if the travail and yearning of his mother had passed upon him as a birthmark. The universe was madly rushing about him, seeking to engulf him. Things assumed threatening and spectral shapes. There was little joy or serenity for him. Every task he proposed to himself was a struggle with chaos and darkness, real or imaginary. He speaks of "Frederick" as a nightmare; the "Cromwell business" as toiling amid mountains of dust. I know of no other man in literature with whom the sense of labor is so tangible and terrible. That vast, grim, struggling, silent, inarticulate array of ancestral force that lay in him, when the burden of written speech was laid upon it, half rebelled, and would not cease to struggle and be inarticulate. There was a plethora of power: a channel, as through rocks, had to be made for it, and there was an incipient cataclysm whenever a book was to be written. What brings joy and buoyancy to other men, namely, a genial task, brought despair and convulsions to him. It is not the effort of composition, — he was a rapid and copious writer and speaker, — but the pressure of purpose, the friction of power and velocity, the sense of overcoming the demons and mud-gods and frozen torpidity he so often refers to. Hence no writing extant is so little like writing, and gives so vividly the sense of something done. He may praise silence and glorify work. The unspeakable is ever present with him; it is the core of every sentence: the inarticulate is round about him; a solitude like that of space encompasseth him. His books are not easy reading; they are a kind of wrestling to most persons. His style is like a road made of rocks: when it is good, there is nothing like it; and when it is bad, there is nothing like it! In "Past and Present" Carlyle has unconsciously painted his own life and character in truer colors than has any one else: "Not a May-game is this man's life, but a battle and a march, a warfare with principalities and powers; no idle promenade through fragrant orange groves and green, flowery spaces, waited on by the choral Muses and the rosy Hours: it is a stern pilgrimage through burning, sandy solitudes, through regions of thick-ribbed ice. He walks among men; loves men with inexpressible soft pity, as they cannot love him: but his soul dwells in solitude, in the uttermost parts of Creation. In green oases by the palm-tree wells, he rests a space; but anon he has to journey forward, escorted by the Terrors and the Splendors, the Archdemons and Archangels. All heaven, all pandemonium, are his escort." Part of the world will doubtless persist in thinking that pandemonium furnished his chief counsel and guide; but there are enough who think otherwise, and their numbers are bound to increase in the future.
1 See letter to his brother John, March 9, 1821.