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The lamb likes the gowan wi' dew when its droukit;
The hare likes the brake and the braird on the lee;
She thought the dear place she wad never mair see.
And weel may he greet on the bank o' the burn!
Lies cauld in her grave, and will never return!
Discouraged from any further attempt in the meanwhile to write poetry, the Shepherd resolved to commence a literary paper, of a small size, to be published weekly. Being considered far from competent to take the charge of such an undertaking, he had great difficulty in obtaining a publisher; but at length this desideratum was found, and accordingly the first number of "The Spy," as it was termed, made its appearance on the 1st of September 1810: it was in the form of a sheet, quarto, and was sold for fourpence.
The Spy continued for a whole year, and increased the editor's literary reputation, but did little for the improvement of his circumstances; which may be in some measure accounted for by the manner in which the work was prepared and issued. The publisher was one of the old class of printers, steady frequenters of the public-house, or, as Hogg describes him, " a kind-hearted, confused body, who loved a joke and a dram. He sent for me every day about one o'clock, to consult about the publication; and then we uniformly went down to a dark house in the Cowgate, where we drank whisky and ate rolls with a number of printers, the dirtiest and leanest-looking men I had ever seen. My youthful habits having been so regular, I could not stand this; and though I took care, as I thought, to drink very little, yet when I went out I was at times so dizzy I could scarcely walk; and the worst thing of all was, I felt that I was beginning to relish it. Whenever a man thinks seriously of a thing, he generally thinks aright. I thought frequently of these habits and connexions, and found that they never would do; and that, instead of pushing- myself forward as I wished, I was going straight to the mischief. I said nothing about this to my respectable acquaintances, nor do I know if they ever knew or suspected what was going on: but, on some pretence or other, I resolved to cut all connexion with Robertson; and, sorely against his will, gave the printing to the Messrs Aikman, then proprietors of the Star newspaper, showing them the list of subscribers, of which they took their chance, and promised me half the profits. At the conclusion of the year, instead of granting me any profits, they complained of being minus, and charged me with the halt" of the loss. This I refused to pay, unless they could give me an account of all the numbers published, on tne sale of which there should have been a good profit. This they could not do; so I paid nothing, and received as little. I had, however, a good deal to pay to Robertson, who likewise asked more; so that, alter a year's literary drudgery, I found myself a loser rather than a gainer.
"In my farewell paper, I see the following sentence occurs, when speaking of the few who stood friends to the work :—' They have, at all events, the honour of patronising an undertaking quite new in the records of literature; for, that a common shepherd, who never was at school, who went to service at seven years of age, and could neither read nor write with any degree of accuracy when thirty, yet who, smitten with an unconquerable thirst after knowledge, should leave his native mountains and his flocks to wander where they chose, come to the metropolis with his plaid wrapped about his shoulders, and all at once set up for a connoisseur in manners, taste, and genius, has much more the appearance of a romance than a matter of fact; yet a matter of fact it certainly is; and such a person is the editor of the Spy.'"
The Spy was a melange of prose and poetry; some of the pieces, especially those referring to rural life, being of a class which would have done honour to any periodical. The following may be taken as a specimen of the prose narratives :—
THE NITHSDALE FUNERAL.
The women are not mixed with the men at funerals, nor do they accompany the corpse to the place of interment; but in Nithsdale and Galloway, all the female friends of the family attend at the house, sitting in an apartment by themselves. The servers remark, that in their apartment the lamentations for the family loss are generally more passionate than in the other.
The widow ol the deceased, however, came in amongst us, to see a particular friend, who had travelled far to honour the memory of his old and intimate acquaintance. He saluted her with great kindness, and every appearance of heartfelt concern for her misfortunes. The dialogue between them interested me; it was the language of nature; and no other spoke a word while it lasted.
"Ah! James," said she, "I did not think the last time I saw you that our next meeting would be on so mournful an occasion: we were all cheerful then, and little aware of the troubles awaiting us! I have since that time suffered many hardships and losses, James, but all of them were light to this:" she wept bitterly. James endeavoured to comfort her, but he was nearly as much affected himself. "I do not repine," said she, "since it is the will of Him who orders all things for the best purposes, and to the wisest ends; but alas! I fear I am ill fitted for the task which Providence has assigned me." With that she cast a mournful look at two little children who were peeping cautiously into the sheil. "These poor fatherless innocents," said she, "have no other creature to look to but me for anything:; and I have been so little used to manage family affairs, that I scarcely know what I am doing; for he was so careful of us all, so kind, and so good." "Yes," said James, wiping his eyes, " if he was not a good man, I know few who were so. Did he suffer much in his last illness?" "I knew not what he suffered," returned she, " for he never complained. I now remember all the endearing things that he said to us, though I took little heed to them then, having no thoughts of being so soon separated from him. Little did I think he was so ill; though I might easily have known that he would never murmur or repine at what Providence appointed him to endure. No, James, he never complained of anything. Since the time our first great worldly misfortune happened, we two have sat down to many a poor meal; but he was ever alike cheerful and thankful to the Giver.
"He was only ill four days, and was out of his bed every day. Whenever I asked him how he did, his answer uniformly was, 'I am not ill now.' On the day preceding the night of his death, he sat on his chair a full hour, speaking earnestly all the while to the children. I was busied up and down the house, and did not hear all; but I heard him once saying that he might soon be taken from them, and then they would have no father but God; but that He would never be taken frpm them, nor never would forsake them, if they did not first forsake him. 'He is a kind; indulgent Being,' continued he,' and feeds the young ravens, and all the little helpless animals that look and cry to him for food, and you maybe sure that he will never let the poor orphans who pray to him want. Be always dutiful to your mother, and never refuse to do what she bids you on any account, for you may be assured that she has no other aim than your good. Confide all your cares and fears in her bosom, for a parent's love is steadfast; misfortune may heighten, but cannot cool it.'
"When he had finished, he drew his plaid around his head, and went slowly down to the little dell, where he used every day to offer up his morning and evening prayers; and where we have often sat together on Sabbath afternoons, reading verse about with our children in the Bible. I think he was aware of his approaching end, and was gone to recommend us to God, for I looked after him, and saw him on his knees.
"When he returned, I thought he looked extremely ill, and asked him if he was grown worse. He said he was not like to be quite well, and sat down on his chair, looking ruefully at the children, and sometimes at the bed. At length he saia feebly, 'Betty, my dear, make down the bed, and help me to it—it will be the last time.' These words went through my head and heart like the knell of death; all grew dark around me, and I knew not what I was doing.
"He spoke very little after that, saving that at night he desired me, in a faint voice, not to go to my bed, but sit up with him; 'for,' said he, 'it is likely you may never need to do it again.' If God had not supported me that night, James, I could not have stood it; for I had much—much to do! A little past midnight my dear husband expired in my arms, without a groan or a struggle, save some convulsive grasps that he gave my hand. Calm resignation marked his behaviour to the last."
The next thing in which Hogg became deeply interested, in a literary way, was the Forum—a debating society, established by a few young men, of whom our author, not now exactly a young man, was one of the first. "We opened our house to the public, making each individual pay a sixpence, and the crowds that attended, for three years running, were beyond all bounds. I was appointed secretary, with a salary of twenty pounds a-year; which never was paid, though I gave away a great deal in charity. We were exceedingly improvident; but I never was so much advantaged by anything as by that society; for it let me feel, as it were, the pulse of the public, and precisely what they would swallow, and what they would not. All my friends were averse to my coming forward in the Forum as a public speaker, and tried to reason me out of it, by representing my incapacity to harangue a thousand people in a speech of half an hour. I had, however, given my word to my associates; and my confidence in myself being unbounded, I began, and came off with flying colours. We met once a-week. I spoke every night, and sometimes twice the same night; and though I sometimes incurred pointed disapprobation, was in general a prodigious favourite."
At this period of his career, among the more respectable of his friends were Mr James Gray of the High School, and Mr John Grieve, a merchant in Edinburgh, and one who proved the perfect compatibility of elegant literary tastes with industrious business habits. These gentlemen perceived something above what is common in him, and he ultimately, in the year 1813, justified all their prepossessions by the production of the "Queen's Wake." This work consists of a series of ballads, purporting to be sung for the amusement of the young Mary Queen of Scots, on her arrival from France at the ancient palace of Holyrood. "The whole," observes a writer in the Edinburgh Magazine, already quoted, "is a delightful drama, in which poets are the competitors for glory, and the spectators and the judges—a beautiful young queen (who, after a long absence, had arrived in her dominions, and ascended the throne of her fathers) and her nobles, in all the splendour of court array. There is not a period in the history of Scotland that was so likely to give popularity to a similar work as that which the author has chosen for his Wake. It may be considered as a coronation festival for a sovereign, who was then as celebrated for her beauty and accomplishments as she was afterwards for her misfortunes. At the announcement of the subject, we hurry in imagination to Holyrood, and, mingling with the crowd, strain every nerve to obtain but a glimpse of the queen, and to hear the songs of the minstrels; and so complete is the delusion, that the whole seems to be a real scene passing before our eyes. The narrative part of the poem is written with such purity of style, and is, withal, so graceful—the characters, some of which are drawings from life, are sketched with such fidelity and effect—the ballads are so original and imaginative, and so musical both in the sentiments and the numbers—that the world, who expected from the Ettrick Shepherd little else than unpolished rhymes on subjects of no deep interest, with an occasional dash of simplicity and nature, scarcely knew in what terms to express their wonder. The prejudices of years vanished in a few days, and the poet enjoyed the glory of the triumph of genius over misconception. Still, however, we discover in the Queen's Wake the maturity of the same elements of which the embryo is seen in the Mountain Bard. His favourite subjects are still the superstitions and the scenery of the glens and the mountains of Yarrow; but the mysteries of the one are more fully unveiled, and in the other the lights and the shades are disposed with so much more skill, as to produce a more beautiful and harmonious whole. In this poem there is, in his manner, a union of the simplicity and energy of the old rhymers with the polish of modern poetry; and such is its originality, that the author has not borrowed a single incident or character from the poetry of any other country, nor from any poet among ourselves, nor has he one classical allusion."
To justify these commendations, and afford some entertainment to the reader, we offer the following extracts from the Queen's Wake, commencing with " Kilmeny," a tale founded on the not uncommon tradition of a child being stolen by the fairies:—
Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu' the blue cress-flower round the spring;
To pu' the scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hang frae the hazel-tree;
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
But lang may her minny look o'er the wa',
And lang may she seek in the greenwood shaw;
Lang the laird of Duneira blame,
And lang, lang greet, ere Kilmeny come hame!
When many a day had come and fled,