The idea of Glasgow in the ordinary British mind is probably something like the following:
"Glasgow, believed by the natives to be the second city of the empire, is covered by a smoky canopy through which rain penetrates, but which is impervious to sunbeam. It is celebrated for every kind of industrial activity: it is fervent in business six days of the week, and spends the seventh in hearing sermon and drinking toddy. Its population consists of a great variety of classes. The 'operative,' quiet and orderly enough while plentifully supplied with provisions, becomes a Chartist when hungry, and extracts great satisfaction in listening to orators - mainly from the Emerald Isle - declaiming against a bloated aristocracy. The 'merchant prince,' known to all ends of the earth, and subject sometimes to strange vagaries; at one moment he is glittering away cheerily in the commercial heaven, the next he has disappeared, like the lost Pleiad, swallowed up of night for ever. The history of Glasgow may be summed up in one word - cotton; its deity, gold; its river, besung by poets, a sewer; its environs, dust and ashes; the gamin of its wynds and closes less tinctured by education than a Bosjesman; a creature that has never heard a lark sing save perhaps in a cage outside a window in the sixth story, where a consumptive seamstress is rehearsing the 'Song of the Shirt,' 'the swallows with their sunny backs' omitted."
Now this idea of Glasgow is entirely wrong. It contains many cultivated men and women. It is the seat of an ancient university. Its cathedral is the noblest in Scotland; and its statue of Sir John Moore the finest statue in the empire. It is not in itself an ugly city, and it has many historical associations. Few cities are surrounded by prettier scenery; and of late years it has produced two books - both authors dead now - one of which mirrors the old hospitable, social life of the place, while the other pleasantly sketches the interesting localities in its neighbourhood. Dr Strang, in his "Clubs of Glasgow," brings us in contact with the old jolly times; and Mr Macdonald, in his "Rambles round Glasgow," visits, stick in hand, every spot of interest to be found for miles around, knows every ruin and its legend, can tell where each unknown poet has lived and died, and has the martyrology of the district at his fingers' ends. So much for the books; and now a word or two concerning their authors.
Dr Strang was long chamberlain to the city of Glasgow: for more than half a century he saw it growing around him, increasing in population, wealth, and political importance, as during the same period no other British city had increased; and as he knew everything concerning that growth, he not unnaturally took in it the deepest pride. He could remember the old times, the old families, the old buildings, the old domestic habits; and when well-stricken in years, it pleased him to recall the matters which he remembered, and to contrast them with what he saw on every side. I think that on the whole he preferred the old Glasgow of his boyhood to the new Glasgow of his age. All his life he had a turn for literature; in his earlier day he had written stories and sketches, in which he mirrored as vividly as he could the older aspects of the city; and as, along with this turn for writing, he had that antiquarian taste which has been a characteristic of almost every distinguished Scotsman since Sir Walter, while his years and his official position gave him opportunities of gratifying it, he knew Glasgow almost as well as the oldest inhabitant, who has been a bailie and cognisant of all secrets, knows his native village. He was an admirable cicerone; his mind was continually pacing up and down the local last century, knowing every person he met as he knew his contemporary acquaintances; and when he spoke of the progress of Glasgow, he spoke proudly, as if he were recounting the progress of his own son. During the last years of his life, it struck him that he might turn his local knowledge to account.
The Doctor was a humorist; he was fond of anecdote, had a very proper regard for good eating and drinking; he remembered regretfully the rum-punch of his youth, and he was deeply versed in the histories of the Glasgow Clubs. In a happy hour, it occurred to him that if he told the story of those clubs - described the professors, the merchants, the magistrates, the local bigwigs, the clergymen, the rakes, who composed their memberships - he would go to the very core and essence of old Glasgow Society; while in the course of his work he would find opportunities of using what antiquarian knowledge he had amassed concerning old houses, old social habits, the state of trade at different periods, and the like. The idea was a happy one; the Doctor set to work valiantly, and in course of time in a spacious volume, with suitable index and appendix, the "Clubs of Glasgow" was before the world. Never, perhaps, has so good a book been so badly written. The book is interesting, but interesting in virtue of the excellence of the material, not of the literary execution. Yet, on the whole, it may fairly be considered sufficient. You open its pages, and step from the Present into the Past. You are in the Trongate, through which Prince Charles has just ridden. You see Virginian merchants pacing to and fro with scarlet cloaks and gold-headed sticks; you see belle and beau walk a minuet in the Old Assembly-Room; you see flushed Tom and Jerry lock an asthmatic "Charlie" in his sentry-box, and roll him down a declivity into the river - all gone long ago, like the rum-punch which they brewed, like the limes with which they flavoured it!
Mr Macdonald is Dr Strang's antithesis, and yet his complement. The one worked in antiquarianism and statistics; the other in antiquarianism and poetry. The one loved the old houses, the old hedges, the old churchyards within the city; the other loved these things without the city and miles away from it - and so between them both we have the district very fairly represented. Mr Macdonald was a man of genius, a song-writer, an antiquary, a devout lover of beast and bird, of snowdrop and lucken-gowan, of the sun setting on Bothwell Bank, of the moon shining down on Clydesdale barley fields. He was in his degree one of those poets who have, since Burns's time, made nearly every portion of Scotland vocal. Just as Tannahill has made Gleniffer hills greener by his song; as Thom of Inverury has lent a new interest to the banks of the Dee, as Scott Riddell has added a note to the Border Minstrelsy, has Mr Macdonald taken poetic possession of the country around Glasgow. Neither for him nor for any of his cornpeers can the title of great poet be claimed. These men are local poets; but if you know and love the locality, you thankfully accept the songs with which they have associated them. If the scenery of a shire is gentle, it is fitting that the poet of the shire should possess a genius to match. Great scenes demand great poems; simple scenes, simple ones. Coleridge's hymn in the Vale of Chamouni is a noble performance, but out of place if uttered in a Lanarkshire glen where sheep are feeding, and where you may search the horizon in vain for an elevation of five hundred feet. Mr Macdonald could not have approached Coleridge's hymn had he been placed in Chamouni; but he has done justice to the scenery that surrounded him - made the ivies of Crookston more sombre with his verse, and yet more splendid the westward-running Clyde in which the sun is setting.
He was one of those, too - of whom Scotchmen are specially proud - who, born in humble circumstances, and with no aid from college, and often but little from school, do achieve some positive literary result, and recognition more or less for the same. He was born in one of the eastern districts of Glasgow, lived for some time in the Island of Mull, in the house of a relative - for, as his name imports, he was a pure Celt - and from his sires he drew song, melancholy, and superstition. The superstition he never could completely shake off. He could laugh at a ghost story, could deck it out with grotesque or humorous exaggeration; but the central terror glared upon him through all disguises, and, hearing or relating, his blood was running chill the while. Returning to his native city, he was entered an apprentice in a public manufactory, and here it was - fresh from ruined castle, mist folding on the Monren Hills, tales told by mountain shepherd or weather-beaten fisherman of corpse lights glimmering on the sea; with English literature in which to range and take delight in golden shreds of leisure; and with everything, past Highland experience and present dim environment, beginning to be overspread by the "purple light of love" that Mr Macdonald became a poet.
Considering the matter now, it may be said that his circumstances were not unfavourable to the development of the poetic spirit Glasgow at the period spoken of could boast of her poets. Dugald Moore was writing odes to "Earthquake" and "Eclipse," and getting quizzed by his companions. Motherwell, the author of "Jeanie Morrison," was editor of the Courier, and in its columns fighting manfully against Reform. Alexander Rodger, who disgusted Sir Walter by the publication of a wicked and witty welcome - singular in likeness and contrast to the Magician's own - on the occasion of the visit of his gracious Majesty George IV. to Edinburgh, was filling the newspapers of the west with satirical verses, and getting himself into trouble thereby. Nay, more, this same Alexander Rodger, either then or at a later period, held a post in the manufactory in which Mr Macdonald was apprentice. Nor was the eye without education, or memory without associations to feed upon. Before the door of this manufactory stood Glasgow Green, the tree yet putting forth its leaves under which Prince Charles stood when he reviewed his shoeless Highland host before marching to Falkirk.
Near the window, and to be seen by the boy every time he lifted his head from work, flowed the Clyde, bringing recollections of the red ruins of Bothwell Castle, where the Douglases dwelt, and the ivy-muffled walls of Blantyre Priory where the monks prayed; carrying imagination with it as it flowed seaward to Dumbarton Castle, with its Ossianic associations, and recalling, as it sank into ocean, the night when Bruce from his lair in Arran watched the beacon broadening on the Carrick shore. And from the same windows, looking across the stream, he could see the long straggling burgh of Rutberglen, with the church tower which saw the bargain struck with Menteith for the betrayal of Wallace, standing eminent above the trees. And when we know that the girl who was afterwards to become his wife was growing up there, known and loved at the time, one can fancy how often his eyes dwelt on the little town, with church tower and chimney, fretting the sky-line. And when he rambled - and he always did ramble - inevitably deeper impulses would come to him.
Northward from Glasgow a few miles, at Rob Royston, where Wallace was betrayed, lived Walter Watson, whose songs have been sung by many who never heard his name. Seven miles southward from the city lay Paisley in its smoke, and beyond that, Gleniffer Braes - scarcely changed since Tannahill walked over them on summer evenings. South-east stretched the sterile district of the Mearns, with plovers, and heather, and shallow, glittering lakes; and beyond, in a green crescent embracing the sea, lay a whole Ayrshire, fiery and full of Burns, every stock and stone passionate with him, his daisy blooming in every furrow, every stream as it ran seaward mourning for Highland Mary - and when night fell, in every tavern in the county the blithest lads in Christendie sitting over their cups, and flouting the horned moon hanging in the window pane. And then, to complete a poetic education, there was Glasgow herself - black river flowing between two glooms of masts - the Trongate's all-day roar of traffic, and at night the faces of the hurrying crowds brought out keenly for a moment in the light of the shop windows - the miles of stony streets, with statues in the squares and open spaces - the grand Cathedral, filled once with Popish shrines and rolling incense, on one side of the ravine, and on the other, John Knox on his pillar, impeaching it with outstretched arm that clasps a Bible. And ever as the darkness came, the district north-east and south of the city was filled with shifting glare and gloom of furnace fires; instead of night and its privacy, the splendour of towering flame brought to the inhabitants of the eastern and southern streets a fluctuating scarlet day, piercing nook and cranny as searchingly as any sunlight - making a candle needless to the housewife as she darned stockings for the children, and turning to a perfect waste of charm, the blush on a sweetheart's cheek. With all these things around him, Mr Macdonald set himself sedulously to work, and whatever may be the value of his poetic wares, plenty of excellent material lay around him on every side.
To him all these things had their uses. He had an excellent literary digestion, capable of extracting nutriment from the toughest materials. He assiduously made acquaintance with English literature in the evenings, gradually taking possession of the British essayists, poets, and historians. During this period, too, he cherished republican feelings, and had his own speculations concerning the regeneration of the human race. At this time the splendid promise of Chartism made glorious the horizon, and Macdonald, like so many of his class conceived that the "five pints" were the avantcouriers of the millennium. For him, in a very little while, Chartism went out like a theatrical sun. He no longer entertained the idea that he could to any perceptible extent aid in the regeneration of the race. Indeed, it is doubtful whether, in his latter days, he cared much whether the race would ever be regenerated. Man was a rascal, had ever been a rascal, and a rascal lie would remain till the end of the chapter. He was willing to let the world wag, certified that the needful thing was to give regard to his own private footsteps. His own personal hurt made him forget the pained world. He was now fairly embarked on the poetic tide. His name, appended to copies of verses, frequently appeared in the local prints, and gained no small amount of local notice.
At intervals some song-bird of his brain of stronger pinion or gayer plumage than usual would flit from newspaper to newspaper across the country; nay, several actually appeared beyond the Atlantic, and, not unnoticed by admiring eyes, perched on a broadsheet here and there, as they made their way from the great cities towards the Western clearings. All this time, too, he was an enthusiastic botanist in book and field, a lover of the open country and the blowing wind, a scorner of fatigue, ready any Saturday afternoon when work was over for a walk of twenty miles, if so be he might look on a rare flower or an ivied ruin. And the girl living over in Rutherglen was growing up to womanhood, each charm of mind and feature celebrated for many a year in glowing verse; and her he, poet-like, married - the household plenishing of the pair, love and hope, and a disregard of inconveniences arising from straitened means. The happiest man in the world - but a widower before the year was out! With his wife died many things, all buried in one grave. Republican dreamings and schemes for the regeneration of the world faded after that. Here is a short poem, full of the rain cloud and the yellow leaf, which has reference to his feelings at the time -
"Gorgeous are thy woods, October
Clad in glowing mantles sear;
Brightest tints of beauty blending
Like the west, when day 's descending,
Thou 'rt the sunset of the year.
"Fading flowers are thin; October
Droopeth sad the sweet blue.bell;
Gone the blossoms April cherish'd -
Violet, lily, rose, all perish'd -
Fragrance fled from field and dell.
"Songless are thy woods, October
Save when redbreast's mournful lay
Through the calm gray morn is swelling,
To the list'ning echoes telling
Tales of darkness and decay.
"Saddest sounds are thine, October
Music of the falling leaf
O'er the pensive spirit stealing,
To its inmost depths revealing:
'Thus all gladness sinks in grief.'
"I do love thee, drear October
More than budding, blooming Spring -
Hers is hope, delusive smiling,
Trusting hearts to grief beguiling;
Mem'ry loves thy dusky wing.
"Joyous hearts may love the
Bright with sunshine, song, and flower;
But the heart whose hopes are blighted,
In the gloom of woe benighted,
Better loves thy kindred bower.
"'Twas in thee, thou sad October
Death laid low my bosom flower.
Life hath been a wintry river,
O'er whose ripple gladness never
Ghameth brightly since that hour.
"Hearts would fain be with their
Mine is slumb'ring in the day;
Wandering here alone, uncheery,
Deem 't not strange this heart should weary
For its own October day."
The greater proportion of Mr Macdonald's poems first saw the light in the columns of the Glasgow Citizen, then, as now, conducted by Mr James Hedderwick, an accomplished journalist, and a poet of no mean order. The casual connexion of contributor and editor ripened into friendship, and in 1849, Mr Macdonald was permanently engaged as Mr Hedderwick's sub-editor. He was now occupied in congenial tasks, and a gush of song followed this accession of leisure and opportunity. Sunshine and the scent of flowers seemed to have stolen into the weekly columns. You "smelt the meadow" in casual paragraph and in leading article. The Citizen not only kept its eye on Louis Napoleon and the Czar, it paid attention to the building of the hedge-sparrow's nest, and the blowing of the wild flower as well.
Still more to prose than to verse did Mr Macdonald at this time direct his energies; and he was happy enough to encounter a subject exactly suited to his powers and mental peculiarities. He was the most uncosmopolitan of mortals. He had the strongest local attachments. In his eyes, Scotland was the fairest portion of the planet; Glasgow, the fairest portion of Scotland; and Bridgeton - the district of the city in which he dwelt - the fairest portion of Glasgow. He would have shrieked like a mandrake at uprootal. He never would pass a night away from home. But he loved nature - and the snowdrop called him out of the smoke to Castle Milk, the lucken-gowan to Keninure, the craw-flower to Gleniffer. His heart clung to every ruin in the neighbourhood like the ivy. He was learned in epitaphs, and spent many an hour in village churchyards in extracting sweet and bitter thoughts from the half-obliterated inscriptions. Jaques, Isaak Walton, and Old Mortality, in one, he knew
Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, and Ayrshire by heart Keenly sensible to natural beauty, full of antiquarian knowledge, and in possession of a prose style singularly quaint, picturesque, and humorous, he began week, by week, in the columns of the Citizen, the publication of his "Rambles Round Glasgow." City people were astonished to learn that the country beyond the smoke was far from prosaic - that it had its traditions, its antiquities, its historical associations, its glens and waterfalls worthy of special excursions. These sketches were afterwards collected, and ran, in their separate and more convenient form, through two editions. No sooner were the "Rambles" completed than he projected a new series of sketches, entitled, "Days at the Coast" - sketches which also appeared in the columns of a weekly newspaper. Mr Macdonald's best writing is to be found in this book - several of the descriptive passages being really notable in their way. As we read, the Fifth of Clyde glitters before us, with white villages sitting on the green shores: Bute and the twin Cumbraes are asleep in sunshine; while beyond, a stream of lustrous vapour is melting on the grisly Arran peaks. The publication of these sketches raised the reputation of their author, and, like the others, they received the honour of collection, and a separate issue.
But little more has to be said concerning his literary activity. The early afternoon was setting in. During the last eighteen months of his life he was engaged on one of the Glasgow morning journals; and when in its columns he rambled as of yore, it was with a comparatively infirm step, and an eye that had lost its interest and lustre. "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her;" and when the spring-time came, Macdonald, remembering all her former sweetness, journeyed to Castle Milk to see the snowdrops - for there, of all their haunts in the west, they come earliest and linger latest. It was a dying visit, an eternal farewell. Why have I written of this man so? Because he had the knack of making friends of all with whom he came into contact, and it was my fortune to come into more frequent and more intimate contact with him than most. He was neither a great man nor a great poet - in the ordinary senses of these terms - but since his removal there are perhaps some half-dozen persons in the world who feel that the "strange superfluous glory of the air" lacks something, and that because an eye and an ear are gone, the colour of the flower is duller, the song of the bird less sweet, than in a time they can remember.
Both Dr Strang and Mr Macdonald have written about Glasgow, and by their aid we shall be able to see something of the city and its surroundings.
The history of the city, from the period of St Mungo to the commercial crisis in 1857 and the fall of the Western Bank, presents many points of interest. Looking back some thirteen centuries into the gray morning-light of time, we see St Mungo led by an angel, establishing himself on the banks of the Molendinar, and erecting a rude chapel or oratory. There for many summers and winters he prayed his prayers, sung his ayes, and wrought his miracles. The fame of his sanctity spread far and wide, and many pilgrims came to converse with, and be counselled by, the holy man. In process of time - the prayers of the saint proving wondrously efficacious, and the Clyde flowing through the lower grounds at a little distance being populous with salmon - people began to gather, and a score or so of wooden huts, built on the river bank, was the beginning of the present city.
In 1197 the cathedral was consecrated by a certain Bishop Jocelyn, and from thence, on to the Reformation, its affairs continued in a prosperous condition; its revenues, taking into consideration the poverty of the country and the thinness of the population, were considerable; and its bishops were frequently men of ambition and of splendid tastes. Its interior was enriched by many precious relics. On days of high festival, the Lord Bishop and his officials, clad in costly vestments, entered by the great western door, and as the procession swept onward to the altar, incense fumed from swinging censers, the voices of the choir rose in rich and solemn chanting, the great organ burst on the ear with its multitudinous thunders, and rude human hearts were bowed to the ground with contrition, or rose in surges of sound to heaven in ecstasy.
Glasgow, too, is closely connected with Wallace. The Bell o' the Brae saw the flash of his sword as the Southrons fled before him. At the kirk of Rutherglen, Sir John Menteith and Sir Aymer de Valiance met to plan the capture of the hero: and at Rob Royston the deed of shame was consummated. Menteith, with sixty followers, surrounded the house in which Wallace slept. Traitors were already within. His weapons were stolen. Kierly, his servant, was slain. According to Blind Harry, at the touch of a hand Wallace sprung up - a lion at bay. He seized an oaken stool - the only weapon of offence within reach - and at a blow broke one rascal's back, in a second splashed the wall with the blood and brains of another, when the whole pack threw themselves upon him, bore him down by sheer weight, and secured him. He was conveyed to Dumbarton, then held by the English, and from thence was delivered into the hands of Edward.
The battle of Langside was fought in the vicinity of the city. Moray, lying in Glasgow, intercepted Mary on her march from Hamilton to Dumbarton, and gave battle. Every one knows the issue. For sixty miles without drawing rein the queen fled towards England and a scaffold. Moray returned to Glasgow through the village of Gorbals, his troopers, it is said, wiping their bloody swords on the manes of their horses as they rode, and went thence to meet his assassin in Linlithgow town. During the heat and frenzy of the Reformation, nearly all our ecclesiastical edifices went to the ground, or came out of the fierce trial with interiors pillaged, altars desecrated, and the statues of apostles and saints broken or defaced. Glasgow Cathedral was assailed like the rest; already the work of destruction had begun, when the craftsmen of the city came to the rescue. Their exertions on that occasion preserved the noble building for us. They were proud of it then; they are proud of it to-day. During the persecution, the country to the west of Glasgow was overrun by dragoons, and many a simple Covenanter had but short shrift - seized, tried, condemned, shot, in heaven, within the hour. The rambler is certain to encounter, not only in village churchyards, but by the wayside, or in the hearts of solitary moors, familiar but with the sunbeam and the cry of the curlew, rude martyr stones, their sculptures and letters covered with lichen, and telling with difficulty the names of the sufferers and the manner of their deaths, and intimating that -
"This stone shall witness be
'Twixt Presbyterie and Prelacie."
The next striking event in the history of the city is the visit of Prince Charles. Enter on the Christmas week of 1745-46 the wild, foot-sore, Highland host on its flight from Derby. How the sleek citizens shrink back from the worn, hairy faces, and fierce eyes in which the lights of plunderburn. "The Prince, the Prince! which is the Prince?" "That's he - yonder - wi' the lang yellow hair." Onward rides, pale and dejected, the throne-haunted man. He looks up as he catches a fair face at a window, and you see he inherits the Stuart smile and the Stuart eye. He, like his fathers, will provoke the bitterest hatred, and be served by the wildest devotion. Men will gladly throw away their lives for him. The blood of nobles will redden scaffolds for him. Shepherds and herdsmen will dare death to shelter him; and beautiful women will bend over his sleep - wrapped in clansman's plaid on bed of heather or bracken - to clip but one shred of his yellow hair, and feel thereby requited for all that they and theirs have suffered in his behalf.
But with all his beauty and his misfortunes, his appearance in Glasgow created little enthusiasm. He scarcely gained a recruit. Only a few ladies donned in his honour white breast-knots and ribbons. He levied a heavy contribution on the inhabitants. A prince at the head of an army in want of brogues, and who insisted on being provided with shoe-leather gratis, was hardly calculated to excite the admiration of prudent Glasgow burgesses. He did not remain long. The Green beheld for one day the far-stretching files and splendour of the Highland war, on the next - in unpaid shoe-leather - he marched to his doom. Victory, like a stormy sunbeam, burned for a moment on his arms at Falkirk, and then all was closed in blood and thunder on Culloden Moor.
It is about this period that Dr Strang's book on the "Clubs" begins. In those old, hospitable, hard-drinking days, Glasgow seems to have been preeminently a city of clubs. Every street had its tavern, and every tavern had its club. There were morning clubs, noon-day clubs, evening clubs, and all-day clubs, which, like the sacred fire, never went out. The club was a sanctuary wherein nestled friendship and enjoyment. The member left his ordinary life outside the door, like his greatcoat, and put it on again when he went away. Within the genial circle of the club were redressed all the ills that flesh is heir to: the lover forgot Nerissa's disdain, the debtor felt no longer his creditor's eye. At the sight of the boon companions, Care packed up his bundles and decamped, or if he dared remain, he was immediately laid hold off, plunged into the punch-bowl, and there was an end of him for that night at least. Unhappily those clubs are dead, but as their ghosts troop past in Dr Strang's pages, the sense is delicately taken by an odour of rum-punch.
Shortly after the Pretender's visit to the city, the Anderston Club - so called from its meetings being held in that little village - flourished, drank its punch, and cracked its jokes on Saturday afternoons. Perhaps no club connected with the city, before or since, could boast of a membership so distinguished. It comprised nearly all the University professors. Dr Moore, professor of Greek; Professor Ross, who faithfully instilled the knowledge of Humanities into the Glasgow youth; Drs Cullen and Hamilton, medical teachers of eminence; Adam Smith; the Brothers Foulis - under whose auspices the first Fine-Art Academy was established in Scotland, and from whose printing-press the Greek and Roman classics were issued with a correctness of text and beauty of typography which had then no parallel in the kingdom - were regular and zealous members. But the heart and soul of the Anderston Club seems to have been Dr Simson, professor of mathematics. His heart vibrated to the little hostelry of Anderston as the needle vibrates to the pole. He could have found his way with his eyes shut. The following story, related of the professor by Dr Strang, is not unamusing in itself, and a fair specimen of the piebald style in which the greater portion of the book is written
"The mathematician ever made it a rule to throw algebra and arithmetic 'to the dogs,' save in so far as to discover the just quadratic equation and simple division of a bowl of punch. One thing alone in the club he brought his mathematics to bear upon, and that was his glass. This had been constructed on the truest principles of geometry for emptying itself easily, the stalk requiring to form but a very acute angle with the open lips ere its whole contents had dropped into the asophagus. One fatal day, however, Girzy, the black-eyed and dimple-checked servant of the hostelry, in making arrangements for the meeting of the club, allowed this favourite piece of crystal, as many black and blue eyed girls have done before and since, to slip from her fingers and be broken. She knew the professor's partiality for his favourite beaker, and thought of getting another; but the day was too far spent, and the Gallowgate, then the receptacle of such luxuries, was too far distant to procure one for that day's meeting of the fraternity. Had Verreville, the city of glass, been then where it has since stood, the mathematician's placid temper might not have been ruffled, nor might Girzy have found herself in so disagreeable a dilemma.
The club met, the hen-broth smoked in every platter, the few standard dishes disappeared, the medoc was sipped, and was then succeeded, as usual, by a goodly-sized punch-bowl. The enticing and delicious compound was mixed, tasted, and pronounced nectar: the professor, dreaming for a moment of some logarithm of Napier's, or problem of Euclid's, pushed forward to the fount unconsciously the glass which stood before him, drew it back a brimmer, and carried it to his lips; but lo! the increased angle at which the professor was obliged to raise his arm, roused him from his momentary reverie, and, pulling the drinking-cup from his lips as if it contained the deadliest henbane, exclaimed, 'What is this, Girzy, you have given me? I cannot drink out of this glass. Give me my own, you little minx. You might now well know that this is not mine.' 'Weel-a-wat, it's a I hae for 't, Maister Simson,' answered Girzy, blushing. 'Hush, hush,' rejoined the mathematician, 'say not so. I know it is not my glass, for the outer edge of this touches my nose, and mine never did so.' The girl confessed the accident, and the professor, though for some minutes sadly out of humour, was at length appeased, and swallowed his sherbet at the risk of injuring his proboscis."
Dr Strang informs us that the eccentric mathematician, in his progress from the University to Anderston, was in the habit of counting his steps, and that, walking blind-folded, he could have told the distance to a fraction of an inch. He has omitted, however, to tell us whether the Doctor's steps were counted on his return, and if the numbers corresponded!
Along with the notices of the clubs subsequent to the one mentioned, Dr Strang gives his reader a tolerable notion of how it went with Glasgow in those years. We have a peep of the Trongate during the lucrative tobacco trade, when Glasgow had her head not a little turned by her commercial prosperity. There are rich citizens now in the streets. Behold Mr Glassford, picking his steps daintily along the Crown o' the Causeway, with scarlet cloak, flowing wig, cocked-hat, and gold-headed cane! He has money in his purse, and he knows it too. All men warm themselves in the light of his countenance. If he kicks you, you are honoured, for is it not with a golden foot? How the loud voice droops, how the obsequious knee bends before him! He told Tobias Smollett yesterday that he had five-and-twenty ships sailing for him on the sea, and that half-a-million passed through his hands every year. Pass on a little farther, and yonder is Captain Paton sunning himself on the ample pavement in front of the Tontine. Let us step up to him. He will ask us to dinner, and mix us a bowl of punch flavoured with his own limes -
"In Trinidad that grow."
For hospitality was then, as now, a characteristic of the city. The suppers - the favourite meal - were of the most substantial description. A couple of turkeys, a huge round of beef, and a bowl - a very Caspian Sea - of punch, seething to its silver brim, and dashed with delicate slices of lime or lemon - formed the principal ingredients. Good fellowship was the order of the day. In the morning and forenoon the merchants congregated in the Tontine reading-room for news and gossip, and at night the punch-bowl was produced, emptied, replenished, and emptied again, while the toasts - "Down with the Convention," "The Pilot that weathered the storm " - were drunk with enthusiasm in some cosy tavern in the then aristocratic Princes Street At a later period, during the disturbed years that preceded the Reform Bill, we see the moneyed classes - "soor-milk jockeys" they were profanely nicknamed by the mob - eagerly enrolling themselves in yeomanry corps: on field days resplendent in laced jacket and shako, or clanking through the streets with spur and sabre. As we approach our own times the clubs pale their ineffectual fires - they shrink from planets to wills-o'-the-wisp; at last
"They die away
And fide into the light of common thy."
Glasgow is now, so far as history is concerned, a clubless city.
During the commercial distress of 1848-49, and the agitation consequent on the flight of Louis Philippe and the establishment of the French Republic, Glasgow had the bad eminence of going further in deeds of lawlessness and riot than any other city in the empire. The "Glasgow operative" is, while trade is good and wages high, the quietest and most inoffensive of creatures. He cares comparatively little for the affairs of the nation. He is industrious and contented. Each six months he holds a saturnalia - one on New-year's day, the other at the Fair, (occurring in July,) and his excesses at these points keep him poor during the intervals. During periods of commercial depression, however, when wages are low, and he works three-quarter time, he has a fine nose to scent political iniquities. He begins to suspect that all is not right with the British constitution.
These unhappy times, too, produce impudent demagogues, whose power of lungs and floods of flashy rhetoric work incredible mischief. To these he seriously inclines his ear. He is hungry and excited. He is more anxious to reform Parliament than to reform himself. He cries out against tyranny of class-legislation, forgetting the far harder tyranny of the gin-palace and the pawn-shop. He thinks there should be a division of property. Nay, it is known that some have in times like these marked out the very houses they are to possess when the goods of the world are segregated and appropriated anew. What a dark sea of ignorance and blind wrath is ever weltering beneath the fair fabric of English prosperity! This dangerous state of feeling had been reached in the year spoken of. Hungry, tumultuous meetings were held on the Green. The ignorant people were maddened by the harangues of orators - fellows who were willing to burn the house of the nation about the ears of all of us, if so be their private pig could be roasted thereby. "The rich have food," said they, "you have none. You cannot die of hunger. Take food by the strong hand wherever you can get it" This advice was acted upon. The black human sea poured along London Street, and then split - one wave rushed up the High Street, another along the Trongate - each wasting as it went.
The present writer, then a mere lad, was in the streets at the time. The whole thing going on before his eyes seemed strange, incredible, too monstrous to be real - a hideous dream which he fought with and strove to thrust away. For an hour or so all order was lost. All that had been gained by a thousand years of strife and effort - all that had been wrested from nature - all the civilities and amenities of life - seemed drowned in a wild sea of scoundrelism. The world was turned topsy-turvy. Impossibility became matter of fact. Madness ruled the hour. Gun-shops were broken open, and wretched-looking men, who hardly knew the muzzle from the stock, were running about with muskets over their shoulders. In Buchanan Street a meal cart was stopped, overturned, the sacks ripped open with knives, and women were seen hurrying home to their famishing broods with aprons full; some of the more greedy with a cheese under each arm. In Queen Street a pastry cook's was attacked, the windows broken, and the delicacies they contained greedily devoured. A large glass-case, filled with coloured lozenges, arranged in diamond patterns, stood serene for a while amid universal ruin. A scoundrel smashed it with a stick; down rushed a deluge of lozenges, and a dozen rioters were immediately sprawling over each other on the ground to secure a share of the spoil. By this time alarm had spread. Shops were shutting in all directions, some of the more ingenious traders, it is said, pasting "A Shop to Let" upon their premises - that they might thereby escape the rage or the cupidity of the rioters.
At last, weary with spoliation, the mob, armed with guns, pistols, and what other weapons they had secured, came marching along the Trongate, a tall begrimed collier, with a rifle over his shoulder, in front. This worthy, more than two-thirds drunk kept shouting at intervals, "Vive la Republic! We'll hae Vive la Republic, an' naething but Vive la Republic !" to which intelligible political principle his followers responded with vociferous cheers. At last they reached the Cross. Here a barricade was in process of erection. Carts were stopped and thrown down, and London Street behind was crowded with men, many of them provided with muskets. On a sudden the cry arose, "The sogers, the sogers !" terrible to the heart of a British mob. Hoofs were heard clattering along the Trongate, and the next moment an officer of Carabineers leaped his horse over the barricade, followed by his men, perhaps a dozen in all. The effect was instantaneous. In five minutes not a rioter was to be seen. When evening fell the Trongate wore an unwonted appearance. Troops stacked their bayonets, lighted their fires, and bivouacked under the piazzas of the Tontine. Sentinels paced up and down the pavements, and dragoons patrolled the streets.
Next day the disturbance came to a crisis. A riot occurred in Calton or Bridgeton. The pensioners were sent to quell it there. While marching down one of the principal streets, they were assailed by volleys of stones, the crowd meanwhile falling back sullenly from the bayonet points. The order was given to fire, and the veterans, whose patience was completely exhausted, sent their shot right into the mass of people. Several were wounded, and one or more killed. When the pensioners were gone, a corpse was placed on boards, carried through the streets shoulder-high by persons who, by that means, hoped to madden and rouse the citizens; a large crowd attending, every window crammed with heads as the ghastly procession passed. As they approached the centre of the city, a file of soldiers was drawn across the street up which they were marching. When the crowd fell back, the bearers of the dead were confronted by the ominous glitter of steel. The procession paused, stopped, wavered, and finally beat a retreat, and thus the riots closed. That evening people went to look at the spot where the unhappy collision had taken place. Groups of workmen were standing about, talking in tones of excitement. The wall of one of the houses was chipped in places by bullets, and the gutter, into which a man had reeled, smashed by the death-shot, had yet a ruddy stain. Next day tranquillity was in a great measure restored. Masses of special constables had by this time been organised, and marched through the city in force. Although they did not come into contact with the rioters, the bravery they displayed in cudgelling what unfortunate females, and keelies of tender years fell into their hands, gave one a lively idea of the prowess they would have exhibited had they met foes worthy of the batons they bore.
Glasgow, as most British readers are aware, is situated on both sides of the Clyde, some twenty or thirty miles above its junction with the sea. Its rapidity of growth is perhaps without a parallel in the kingdom. There are persons yet alive who remember when the river, now laden with shipping, was an angler's stream, in whose gravelly pools the trout played, and up whose rapids the salmon from the sea flashed like a sunbeam; and when the banks, now lined with warehouses and covered with merchandise of every description, really merited the name of the Broomy Law. Science and industry have worked wonders here. The stream, which a century ago hardly allowed the passage of a herring-boat or a coal-gabbert, bears on its bosom to-day ships from every clime, and mighty ocean steamers which have wrestled with the hurricanes of the Atlantic. Before reaching Glasgow the Clyde traverses one of the richest portions of Scotland, for in summer Clydesdale is one continued orchard. As you come down the stream towards the city, you have, away to the right, the mineral districts of Gartsherrie and Monkland - not superficially captivating regions. Everything there is grimed with coal-dust.
Spring herself comes with a sooty face. The soil seems calcined. You cannot see that part of the world to advantage by day. With the night these innumerable furnaces and iron-works will rush out into vaster volume and wilder colour, and for miles the country will be illuminated - restless with mighty lights and shades. It is the Scottish Staffordshire. On the other hand, away to the south-west stretch the dark and sterile moors of the covenant, with wild moss-haggs, treacherous marshes green as emerald, and dark mossy lochs, on whose margins the water-hen breeds - a land of plovers and curlews, in whose recesses, and in the heart of whose mists, the hunted people lay while the men of blood were hovering near - life and death depending on the cry and flutter of a desert bird, or the flash of a sunbeam along the stretches of the moor. In the middle of that melancholy waste stands the farm-house of Lochgoin, intimately connected with the history of the Covenanters.
To this dwelling came Cameron and Peden and found shelter; here lies the notched sword of Captain John Paton, and the drum which was beaten at Drumclog by the hill-folk, and the banner that floated above their heads that day. And here, too, was written the "Scots Worthies," a book considerered by the austerer portion of the Scottish peasantry as next in sacredness to the Bible. And it has other charms this desolate country: over there by Mearns, Christopher North spent his glorious boyhood; in this region, too, Pollok was born, and fed his gloomy spirit on congenial scenes. Approaching the city, and immediately to the left are the Cathkin Braes: and close by the village of Cathcart, past which the stream runs murmuring in its rocky bed, is the hill on which Mary stood and saw Moray shiver her army like a potsherd. Below Glasgow, and westward, stretches the great valley of the Clyde. On the left is the ancient burgh of Renfrew; farther back Paisley and Johnston, covered with smoke; above all, Gleniffer Braes, greenly fair in sunlight; afar Neilston Pad, raising its flat summit to the sky, like a table spread for a feast of giants. On the right are the Kilpatrick Hills, terminating in the abrupt peak of Dumbuck; and beyond, the rock of Dumbarton, the ancient fortress, the rock of Ossian's song. It rises before you out of another world and state of things, with years of lamentation and battle wailing around it like sea-mews. By this time the river has widened to an estuary. Port-Glasgow, with its deserted piers, and Greenock, populous with ships, lie on the left.
Mid-channel, Rosneath is gloomy with its woods; on the farther shore Helensburgh glitters like a silver thread; in front, a battlement of hills. You pass the point of Gourock, and are in the Highlands. From the opposite coast Loch Long stretches up into yon dark world of mountains Yonder is Holy Loch, smallest and loveliest of them all. A league of sea is glittering like frosted silver between you and Dunoon. The mighty city, twenty miles away, loud with traffic, dingy with smoke, is the working Glasgow; here, nestling at the foot of mountains, stretching along the sunny crescents of bays, clothing beaked promontories with romantic villas, is another Glasgow keeping holiday the whole summer long. These villages are the pure wheat; the great city, with its strife and toil, its harass and heartbreak - the chaff and husks from which it is winnowed. The city is the soil, this region the bright consummate flower.
The merchant leaves behind him in the roar and vapour his manifold vexations, and appears here with his best face and happiest smile. Here no bills intrude, the fluctuations of stock appear not, commercial anxieties are unknown. In their places are donkey rides, the waving of light summer dresses, merry pic-nics, and boating parties at sunset on the splendid sea. Here are the "comforts of the Sautmarket" in the midst of legendary hills. When the tempest is brewing up among the mountains, and night comes down a deluge of wind and rain; when the sea-bird is driven athwart the gloom like a flake of foam severed from the wave, and the crimson eye of the Clock glares at intervals across the frith, you can draw the curtains, stir the fire, and beguile the hours with the smiling wisdom of Thackeray, if a bachelor; if a family man, "The Battle of Prague," or the overture to "Don Giovanni," zealously thumped by filial hands, will drown the storm without. Hugging the left shore, we have Largs before us, where long ago Haco and his berserkers found dishonourable graves. On the other side is Bute, fairest, most melancholy of all the islands of the Clyde. From its sheltered position it has an atmosphere soft as that of Italy, and is one huge hospital now. You turn out in the dog-days, your head surmounted with a straw-hat ample enough to throw a shadow round you, your nether man encased in linen ducks, and see invalids sitting everywhere in the sunniest spots like autumn flies, or wandering feebly about, wrapt in great-coats, their chalk faces shawled to the nose. You are half-broiled, they shiver as if in an icy wind.
Their bent figures take the splendour out of the sea and the glory out of the sunshine. They fill the summer air as with the earthy horror of a new-made grave. You feel that they hang on life feebly, and will drop with the yellow leaf. Beyond Bute are the Cumbraes, twin sisters born in one fiery hour; and afar Arran, with his precipices, purple-frowning on the level sea.
In his preface to the "Rambles" Mr Macdonald writes: "The district of which Glasgow is the centre, while it possesses many scenes of richest Lowland beauty, and presents many glimpses of the stern and wild in Highland landscape, is peculiarly fertile in reminiscences of a historical nature. In the latter respect, indeed, it is excelled by few localities in Scotland - a circumstance of which many of our citizens seem to have been hitherto almost unconscious. There is a story told of a gentleman who, having boasted that he had travelled far to see a celebrated landscape on the Continent, was put to the blush by being compelled to own that he had never visited a scene of superior loveliness than one situated on his own estate, and near which he had spent the greater part of his life. The error of this individual is one of which too many are guilty."
These sentences would make an admirable text for a little week-day sermon. For we are prone, in other matters than scenery, to seek our enjoyments at a distance. We would gather that happiness from the far-off stars which, had we the eyes to see, is all the while lying at our feet. You go to look at a celebrated scene. People have returned from it in raptures. You have heard them describe it, you have read about it, and you naturally expect something very fine indeed. When you arrive, the chances are that its beauties are carefully stowed away in a thick mist, or you are drenched to the skin, or you find the hotel full, and are forced to sleep in an outhouse, or on the heather beneath the soft burning planets, and go home with a rheumatism which embitters your existence to your dying day.
Or, if you are lucky enough to find the weather cloudless and the day warm, you are doomed to cruel disappointment. Is that what you have heard and read so much about? That pitiful drivelling cascade! Why, you were led to expect the wavy grace of the Gray Mare's Tail combined with the flash and thunder of Niagara. That a mountain forsooth ! It isn't so much bigger than Ben Lomond after all! You feel swindled and taken in. You commend the waterfall to the fiend. You snap your fingers in the face of the mountain. "You 're a humbug, sir. You 're an impostor, sir! - I'll write to the Times and expose you, sir." On the other hand, the townsman, at the close of a useful and busy day, walks out into the country. The road is pretty; he has never been on it before; he is insensibly charmed along. He reaches a little village or clachan, its half-dozen thatched houses set down amid blossoming apple-trees; the smoke from the chimneys, telling of the preparation of the evening meal, floating up into the rose of sunset. A labourer is standing at the door with a child in his arms; the unharnessed horses are drinking at the trough; the village boys and girls are busy at their games; two companies, linked arm-in-arm, are alternately advancing and receding, singing all the while with their sweet shrill voices: "Tbe Campsie Duke's a riding, a riding, a riding."
This is no uncommon scene in Scotland, and why does it yield more pleasure than the celebrated one that you have gone a hundred miles to see, besides spending no end of money on the way? Simply because you have approached it with a pure, healthy mind, undebauched by rumour or praise. It has in it the element of unexpectedness; which, indeed, is the condition of all delight, for pleasure must surprise if it is to be worthy of the name. The pleasure that is expected and looked for never comes, or if it does it is in a shape so changed that recognition is impossible. Besides, you have found out the scene, and have thereby a deeper interest in it. This same law pervades everything. You hear of Coleridge's wonderful conversation, and in an evil hour make your appearance at Highgate. The mild-beaming, silvery-haired sage, who conceived listening to be the whole duty of man, talks for the space of three mortal hours - by you happily unheard. For, after the first twenty minutes, you are conscious of a hazy kind of light before your eyes, a soothing sound is murmuring in your ears, a delicious numbness is creeping over all your faculties, and by the end of the first half-hour you are snoring away as comfortably as if you were laid by the side of your lawful spouse.
You are disappointed of course: of the musical wisdom which has been flowing in plenteous streams around, you have not tasted one drop; and you never again hear a man praised for power or brilliancy of conversation without an inward shudder. The next day you take your place on the coach, and are fortunate enough to secure your favourite seat beside the driver. Outside of you is a hard-featured man, wrapt in a huge blue pilot-coat. You have no idea to what class of society he may belong. It is plain that he is not a gentleman in the superfine sense of that term. He has a very remarkable gift of silence. When you have smoked your cigar out, you hazard a remark about the weather. He responds. You try his mind as an angler tries a stream, to see if anything will rise. One thing draws on another, till, after an hour's conversation, which has flown over like a minute, you find that you have really learned something. The unknown individual in the pilotcoat, who has strangely come out of space upon you, and as strangely returns into space again, has looked upon the world, and has formed his own notions and theories of what goes on there. On him life has pressed as well as on you; joy at divers times has lighted up his grim features; sorrow and pain have clouded them. There is something in the man; you are sorry when he is dropped on the road, and say "Good-bye," with more than usual feeling. Why is all this? The man in the pilot-coat does not talk so eloquently as S. T. C., but he instructs and pleases you - and just because you went to hear the celebrated Talker, as you go to see the Irish Giant, or the Performing Pig, you are disappointed, as you deserved to be. The man in the pilot-coat has come upon you naturally, unexpectedly. At its own sweet will "the cloud turned forth its silver lining on the night." Happiness may best be extracted from the objects surrounding us. The theory on which our loud tumultuary modern life is based - that we can go to Pleasure, that if we frequent her haunts we are sure to find her - is a heresy and a falsehood. She will not be constrained. She obeys not the call of the selfish or the greedy. Depend upon it she is as frequently found on homely roads, and amongst rustic villages and farms, as among the glaciers of Chamouni, or the rainbows of Niagara.
In one of his earliest rambles, Mr Macdonald follows the river for some miles above the city, The beauty of the Clyde below Glasgow is well known to the civilised world. Even the rout of landscape, to whom the Rhine is weariness and the Alps common-place, has felt his heart leap within him while gazing on that magnificent estuary. But it is not only in her maturity that the Clyde is fair. Beauty attends her from her birth on Rodger Law until she is wedded with ocean - Bute, and the twin Cumbraes, bridesmaids of the stream; Arran, groomsman to the main.
With Mr Macdonald's book in pocket to be a companion at intervals - for one requires no guide, having years before learned every curve and bend of the river - let us start along its banks towards Carmyle and Kenmure wood. We pass Dalmarnock Bridge, and leave the city, with its windowed factories and driving wheels and everlasting canopy of smoke behind. The stream comes glittering down between green banks, one of which rises high on the left, so that further vision in that quarter is intercepted. On the right are villages and farms; afar, the Cathkin Braes, the moving cloud shadows mottling their sunny slopes; and straight ahead, and closing the view, the spire of Cambuslang Church, etched on the pallid azure of the sky. We are but two miles from the city, and everything is bright and green. The butterfly flutters past; the dragonfly darts hither and thither. See, he poises himself on his winnowing wings, about half a yard from one's nose, which he curiously inspects; that done, off darts the winged tenpenny-nail, his rings gleaming like steel. There are troops of swallows about. Watch one. Now he is high in air - now he skims the Clyde. You can hear his sharp, querulous twitter as he jerks and turns. Nay, it is said that the kingfisher himself has been seen gleaming along these sandy banks, illuminating them like a meteor. At some little distance a white house is pleasantly situated amongst trees - it is Dalbeth Convent.
As we pass, one of the frequent bells summoning the inmates to devotion is stirring the sunny Presbyterian air. A little on this side of the convent, a rapid brook comes rushing to the Clyde, crossed by a rude bridge of planks, which has been worn by the feet of three generations at the very least. The brook, which is rather huffy and boisterous in its way, particularly after rain, had, a few days before, demolished and broken up said wooden planks, and carried one of them off. Arriving, we find a woman and boy anxious to cross, yet afraid to venture. Service is proffered, and, after a little trouble, both are landed in safety on the farther bank. The woman is plainly, yet neatly dressed, and may be about forty-five years of age or thereby. The boy has turned eleven, has long yellow hair hanging down his back, and looks thin and slender for his years. With them they have something wrapped up in a canvas cloth, which, to the touch as they are handed across, seem to be poles of about equal length. For the slight service the woman returns thanks in a tone which smacks of the southern English counties. "Good-bye" is given and returned, and we proceed, puzzling ourselves a good deal as to what kind of people they are, and what their business may be in these parts, but can come to no conclusion. However, it does not matter much, for the ironworks are passed now, and the river banks are beautiful. They are thickly wooded, and at a turn the river flows straight down upon you for a mile, with dusty meal-mills on one side, a dilapidated wheel-house on the other, and stretching from bank to bank a half-natural, half-artificial shallow horse-shoe fall, over which the water tumbles in indolent foam - a sight which a man who has no pressing engagements, and is fond of exercise, may walk fifty miles to see, and be amply rewarded for his pains.
In front is a ferry - a rope extending across the river by which the boat is propelled - and lo ! a woman in a scarlet cloak on the opposite side hails the ferryman, and that functionary comes running to his duty. Just within the din of the shallow horse-shoe fall lies the village of Carmyle, an old, quiet, sleepy place, where nothing has happened for the last fifty years, and where nothing will happen for fifty years to come. Ivy has been the busiest thing here; it has crept up the walls of the houses, and in some instances fairly "put out the light" of the windows. The thatched roofs are covered with emerald moss. The plum-tree which blossomed some months ago blossomed just the same in the spring which witnessed the birth of the oldest inhabitant. For half a century not one stone has been placed upon another here - there are only a few more green mounds in the churchyard. It is the centre of the world. All else is change: this alone is stable. There is a repose deeper than sleep in this little, antiquated village - ivy-muffled, emerald-mossed, lullabied for ever by the fall of waters. The meal-mills, dusty and white as the clothes of the miller himself, whir industriously; the waters of the lade come boiling out from beneath the wheel, and reach the Clyde by a channel dug by the hand of man long ago, but like a work of nature's now, so covered with furze as it is. Look down through the clear amber of the current, and you see the "long green gleet of the slippery stones" in which the silver-bellied eel delights.
Woe betide the luckless village urchin that dares to wade therein. There is a sudden splash and roar. When he gets out, he is laid with shrill objurgations across the broad maternal knee, and fright and wet clothes are avenged by sound whacks from the broad maternal hand. Leaving the village, we proceed onward. The banks come closer, the stream is shallower, and whirls in eddy and circle over a rocky bed. There is a woodland loneliness about the river which is aided by the solitary angler standing up to his middle in the water, and waiting patiently for the bite that never comes, or by the water-ousel flitting from stone to stone. In a quarter of an hour we reach Kenmuir Bank, which rises some seventy feet or so, filled with trees, their trunks rising bare for a space, and then spreading out with branch and foliage into a matted shade, permitting the passage only of a few flakes of sunlight at noon, resembling, in the green twilight, a flock of visionary butterflies alighted and asleep. Within, the wood is jungle; you wade to the knees in brushwood and bracken. The trunks are clothed with ivy, and snakes of ivy creep from tree to tree, some green with life, some tarnished with decay. At the end of the Bank there is a clear well, in which, your face meeting its shadow, you may quench your thirst. Seated here, you have the full feeling of solitude. An angler wades out into mid-channel - a bird darts out of a thicket, and slides away on noiseless wing - the shallow wash and murmur of the Clyde flows through a silence as deep as that of an American wilderness - and yet, by to-morrow, the water which mirrors as it passes the beauty of the lucken-gowan hanging asleep, will have received the pollutions of a hundred sewers, and be bobbing up and down among the crowds of vessels at the Broomielaw.
Returning homeward by the top of Kenmuir Bank, we gaze westward. Out of a world of smoke the stalk of St Rollox rises like a banner-staff, its vapoury streamer floating on the wind; and afar, through the gap between the Campsie and Kilpatrick hills, Benlomond himself, with a streak of snow upon his shoulder. Could one but linger here for a couple of hours, one would of a verity behold a sight - the sun setting in yonder lurid, smoke-ocean. The wreaths of vapour which seem so common-place and vulgar now, so suggestive of trade and swollen purses and rude manners, would then become a glory such as never shepherd beheld at sunrise on his pastoral hills. Beneath a roof of scarlet flame, one would see the rolling edges of the smoke change into a brassy brightness, as with intense heat; the dense mass and volume of it dark as midnight, or glowing with the solemn purple of thunder; while right in the centre of all, where it has burned a clear way for itself, the broad fluctuating orb, paining the eye with concentrated splendours, and sinking gradually down, a black spire cutting his disk in two. But for this one cannot wait, and the apparition will be unbeheld but by the rustic stalking across the field in company with his prodigious shadow, and who, turning his face to the flame, will conceive it the most ordinary thing in the world.
We keep the upper road on our return, and in a short time are again at Carmyle we have no intention of tracing the river bank a second time, and so turn up the narrow street. But what is to do? The children are gathered in a circle, and the wives are standing at the open doors. There is a performance going on. The tambourine is sounding, and a tiny acrobat, with a fillet round his brow, tights covered with tinsel lozenges, and flesh-coloured shoes, is striding about on a pair of stilts, to the no small amazement and delight of the juveniles. He turns his head, and - why, it's the little boy I assisted across the brook at Dalbeth three hours ago, and of course that's the old lady who is thumping and jingling the tambourine, and gathering in the halfpennies ! God bless her jolly old face ! who would have thought of meeting her here ! I am recognised, the boy waves me farewell, the old lady smiles and curtsies, thumps her tambourine, and rattles the little bells of it with greater vigour than ever. The road to Glasgow is now comparatively uninteresting. The trees wear a dingy colour; you pass farm-houses, with sooty stacks standing in the yard. 'Tis a coaly, dusty district, which has characteristics worth noting. For, as the twilight falls dewily on far-off lea and mountain, folding up daisy and buttercup, putting the linnet to sleep beside his nest of young in the bunch of broom, here the circle of the horizon becomes like red-hot steel; the furnaces of the Clyde iron-works lift up their mighty towers of flame, throwing:
"Large and angry lustres o'er the
And shifting lights across the long dark roads;"
and lo, through chase of light and shade, through glimmer of glare and gloom, we find our way back to Glasgow - its low hum breaking into separate and recognisable sounds, its nebulous brightness into far-stretching street-lamps, as we draw near.
The tourist who travels by train from Glasgow to Greenock must pass the town of Paisley. If he glances out of the carriage window he will see beneath him a third-rate Scotch town, through which flows the foulest and shallowest of rivers.
The principal building in the town, and the one which first attracts the eye of a stranger, is the jail; then follow the church spires in their order of merit. Unfortunately the train passes not through Paisley, but over it; and from his "coign of vantage" the tourist beholds much that is invisible to the passenger in the streets. All the back-greens, piggeries, filthy courts, and unmentionable abominations of the place, are revealed to him for a moment as the express flashes darkly across the railway bridge. For the seeing of Scotch towns a bird's-eye view is plainly the worst point of view. In all likelihood the tourist, as he passes, will consider Paisley the ugliest town he has ever beheld, and feel inwardly grateful that his lot has riot been cast therein. But in this the tourist may be very much mistaken. Paisley is a remarkable place: one of the most remarkable in Scotland. Just as Comrie is the abode of earthquakes, Paisley is the abode of poetic inspiration. There is no accounting for the tastes of the celestials. Queen Titania fell in love with Bottom when he wore the ass's head; and Paisley, ugly as it is, is the favourite seat of the Muses. There Apollo sits at the loom and earns eighteen shillings per week.
At this moment, and the same might have been said of any moment since the century came in, there is perhaps a greater number of poets living and breathing in this little town than in the whole of England. Whether this may arise from the poverty of the place, on the principle that the sweetness of the nightingale's song is connected in some subtle way with the thorn against which she leans her breast, it may be useless to inquire. Proceed from what cause it may, Paisley has been for the last fifty years or more an aviary of singing birds. To said aviary I had once the honour to be introduced. Some years ago, when dwelling in the outskirts of the town, I received a billet intimating that the L C. A. would meet on the evening of the 26th Jan. 18 - , in honour of the memory of the immortal Robert Burns, and requesting my attendance. N.B. - Supper and drink, is. 6d. Being a good deal puzzled by the mystic characters, I made inquiries, and discovered that L. C. A. represented the "Literary and Convivial Association," which met every Saturday evening for the cultivation of the minds of its members - a soil which for years had been liberally irrigated with toddy - with correspondent effects. To this cheap feast of the gods on the sacred evening in question I directed my steps, and beheld the assembled poets. There could scarcely have been fewer than eighty present. Strange! Each of these conceited himself of finer clay than ordinary mortals; each of these had composed verses, some few had even published small volumes or pamphlets of verse by subscription, and drank the anticipated profits; each of these had his circle of admirers and flatterers, his small public and shred of reputation; each of these envied and hated his neighbour; and not unfrequently two bards would quarrel in their cups as to which of them was possessor of the larger amount of fame.
At that time the erection of a monument to Thom of Inverury had been talked about, apropos of which one of the bards remarked, "Ou ay, jist like them. They'll bigg us monuments whan we're deid: I wush they'd gie us something whan we're leevin'." In that room, amid that motley company, one could see the great literary world unconsciously burlesqued and travestied, shadowed forth there the emptiness and noise of it, the blatant vanity of many of its members. The eighty poets presented food for meditation. Well, it is from this town that I propose taking a walk, for behind Paisley lie Gleniffer Braes, the scene of Tannahill's songs. One can think of Burns apart from Ayrshire, of Wordsworth apart from Cumberland, but hardly of Tannahill apart from the Braes of Gleniffer. The district, too, is of but little extent; in a walk of three hours you can see every spot mentioned by the poet You visit his birthplace in the little straggling street, where the sound of the shuttle is continually heard. You pass up to the green hills where he delighted to wander, and whose charms he has celebrated; and you return by the canal where, when the spirit "finely touched to fine issues," was disordered and unstrung, he sought repose. Birth, life, and death lie side by side. The matter of the moral is closely packed. The whole tragedy sleeps in the compass of an epigram.
Leaving the rambling suburbs of Paisley, you pass into a rough and undulating country with masses of gray crag interspersed with whinny knolls, where, in the evenings, the linnet sings; with narrow sandy roads wandering through it hither and thither, passing now a clump of gloomy firs, now a house where some wealthy townsman resides, now a pleasant corn-field. A pretty bit of country enough, with larks singing above it from dawn to sunset, and where, in the gloaming, the wanderer not unfrequently can mark the limping hare. A little further on are the ruins of Stanley Castle. This castle, in the days of the poet, before the wildness of the country had been tamed by the plough, must have lent a singular charm to the landscape. It stands at the base of the hills which rise above it with belt of wood, rocky chasm, white streak of waterfall - higher up into heath and silence, silence deep as the heaven that overhangs it; where nothing moves save the vast cloud-shadows, where nothing is heard save the cry of the moorland bird. Tannahill was familiar with the castle in its every aspect - when sunset burned on the walls, when the moon steeped it in silver and silence, and when it rose up before him shadowy and vast through the marshy mists. He had his loom to attend during the day, and he knew the place best in its evening aspect Twilight, with its quietude and stillness, seemed to have peculiar charms for his sensitive nature, and many of his happiest lines are descriptive of its phenomena. But the glory is in a great measure departed from Stanley Tower; the place has been turned into a reservoir by the Water Company, and the ruin is frequently surrounded by water.
This intrusion of water has spoiled the scene. The tower is hoary and broken, the lake looks a thing of yesterday, and there are traces of quite recent masonry about. The lake's shallow extent, its glitter and brightness, are impertinences. Only during times of severe frost, when its surface is iced over, when the sun is sinking in the purple vapours like a globe of red-hot iron - when the skaters are skimming about like swallows, and the curlers are boisterous - for the game has been long and severe - and the decisive stone is roaring up the rink - only in such circumstances does the landscape regain some kind of keeping and homogeneousness. There is no season like winter for improving a country; he tones it down to one colour; he breathes over its waters, and in the course of a single night they become gleaming floors, on which youth may disport itself. He powders his black forest-boughs with the pearlin's of his frosts; and the fissures which spring tries in vain to hide with her flowers, and autumn with fallen leaves, he fills up at once with a snow-wreath. But we must be getting forward, up that winding road, progress marked by gray crag, tuft of heather, bunch of mountain violets, the country beneath stretching out farther and farther. Lo! a strip of emerald steals down the gray of the hill, and there, by the way-side, is an ample well, with the "netted sunbeam" dancing in it.
Those who know Tannahill's "Gloomy Winter's noo awa" must admire its curious felicity of touch and colour. Turn round, you are in the very scene of the song. In front is "Gleniffer's dewy dell," to the east "Glenkelloch's sunny brae," afar the woods of Newton, over which at this moment laverocks fan the "snaw-white duds ;" below, the "burnie" leaps in sparkle and foam over many a rocky shelf, till its course is lost in that gorge of gloomy firs, and you can only hear the music of its joy. Which is the fairer - the landscape before your eyes, or the landscape sleeping in the light of song? You cannot tell, for they are at once different and the same. The touch of the poet was loving and true. His genius was like the light of early spring, clear from speck or stain of vapour, but with tremulousness and uncertainty in it; happy, but with grief lying quite close to its happiness; smiling, although the tears are hardly dry upon the cheeks that in a moment may be wet again.
But who is Tannahill? the southern reader asks with some wonder; and in reply it may be said that Burns, like every great poet, had many imitators and successors, and that of these successors in the north country Hogg and Tannahill are the most important Hogg was a shepherd in The Forest, and he possessed out of sight the larger nature, the greater intellectual force; while as master of the weird and the supernatural there is no Scottish poet to be put beside him. The soul of Ariel seems to inhabit him at times. He utters a strange music like the sighing of the night-wind; a sound that seems to live remote from human habitations. In openness to spiritual beauty, Burns, compared with him, was an ordinary ploughman. Like Thomas the Rhymer, he lay down to sleep on a green bank on a summer's day, and the Queen of Fancy visited his slumber; and never afterwards could he forget her beauty, and her voice, and the liquid jingling of her bridle bells. Tannahill was a weaver, who wrote songs, became crazed, and committed suicide before he reached middle life. His was a weak, tremulous nature. He was wretched by reason of over-sensitiveness. "He lived retired as noon-tide dew?' He wanted Hogg's strength, self-assertion, humour, and rough sagacity; nor had he a touch of his weird strain.
From Burns, again, he was as different as a man could possibly be. Tannahill knew nothing of the tremendous life-battle fought on wet Mossgiel farm, in fashionable Edinburgh, in provincial Dumfries. He knew nothing of the Love, Scorn, Despair, - those wild beasts that roamed the tropics of Burns's heart. But limited as was his genius, it was in its quality perhaps more exquisite than theirs. He was only a song-writer - both Burns and Hogg were more than that - and some of his songs are as nearly as possible perfect. He knew nothing of the mystery of life. If the fierce hand of Passion had been laid upon his harp, it would have broken at once its fragile strings. He looked upon nature with a pensive yet a loving eye. Gladness flowed upon him from the bright face of spring, despondency from the snow-flake and the sweeping winter winds. His amatory songs have no fire in them. While Burns would have held Annie in his "straining grasp," Tannahill, with a glow upon his cheek, would have pointed out to the unappreciating fair the "plantin' tree-taps tinged wi' gowd," or silently watched the "midges dance aboon the burn." Then, by the aid of that love of nature, how clearly he sees, and how exquisitely he paints what he sees -
"Feathery breckans fringe the
'Neath the brae the burnie jouks."
"Towering o'er the Newton
Laverocks fan the snaw-white cluds.
Neither Keats nor Tennyson, nor any of their numerous followers surpassed this unlettered weaver in felicity of colour and touch. Any one wishing to prove the truth of Tannahill's verse, could not do better than bring out his song-book here, and read and ramble, and ramble and read again.
But why go farther to-day? The Peesweep Inn, where the rambler baits, is yet afar on the heath; Kilbarchan, queerest of villages, is basking its straggling length on the hill-side in the sun, peopled by botanical and bird-nesting weavers, its cross adorned by the statue of Habbie Simpson, "with his pipes across the wrong shoulder." Westward is Elderslie, where Wallace was born, and there, too, till within the last few years, stood the oak amongst whose branches, as tradition tells, the hero, when hard pressed by the Southrons, found shelter with all his men. From afar came many a pilgrim to behold the sylvan giant. Before its fall it was sorely mutilated by time and tourists. Of its timber were many snuff-boxes made. Surviving the tempests of centuries, it continued to flourish green atop, although its heart was hollow as a ruined tower. At last a gale, which heaped our coasts with shipwreck, struck it down with many of its meaner brethren. "To this complexion must we come at last"
At our feet lies Paisley with its poets. Seven miles off, Glasgow peers, with church-spire and factory stalk, through a smoky cloud; the country between gray with distance, and specked here and there with the vapours of the trains. How silent the vast expanse! not a sound reaches the ear on the height. Gleniffer Braes are clear in summer light, beautiful as when the poet walked across them. Enough, their beauty and his memory. One is in no mood to look even at the unsightly place beside the canal which was sought when to the poor disordered brain the world was black, and fellow-men ravening wolves. Here he walked happy in his genius; not a man to wonder at and bow the knee to, but one fairly to appreciate and acknowledge. For the twitter )f the wren is music as well as the lark's lyrical up-burst; the sigh of the reed shaken by the wind as well as the roaring of a league of pines.
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