Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

comrade has fallen ; his own life seems to have been charmed. And knowing how it fared with his friends - perfect health one day, a catarrh the next, blinds drawn down, silence in the house, blubbered faces of widow and orphans, intimation of the event in the newspapers, with a request that friends will accept of it, the day after—a man, as he draws near middle age, begins to suspect every transient indisposition ; to be careful of being caught in a shower, to shudder at sitting in wet shoes; he feels his pulse, he anxiously peruses his face in a mirror, he becomes critical as to the colour of his tongue. In early life illness is a luxury, and draws out toward the sufferer curious and delicious tendernesses, which are felt to be a full over-payment of pain and weakness; then there is the pleasant period of convalescence, when one tastes a core and marrow of delight in meats, drinks, sleep, silence; the bunch of newly-plucked flowers on the table, the sedulous attentions and patient forbearance of nurses and friends. Later in life, when one occupies a post, and is in discharge of duties which are accumulating against recovery, illness and convalescence cease to be luxuries. Illness is felt to be a cruel interruption of the ordinary course of things, and the sick person is harassed by a sense of the loss of time and the loss of strength. He is placed hors de combat; all the while he is conscious that the battle is going on around him, and he feels his temporary withdrawal a misfortune. Of course, unless a man is very unhappily circumstanced, he has in his later illnesses all the love, patience, and attention which sweetened his earlier ones; but then he cannot rest in them, and accept them as before as compensation in full. The world is ever with him ; through his interests and his affections he has meshed himself in an intricate net-work of relationships and other dependences, and a fatal issue—which in such cases is ever on the cards—would destroy all these, and bring about more serious matters than the shedding of tears. In a man's earlier illnesses, too, he had not only no such definite future to work out, he had a stronger spring of life and hope ; he was rich in time, and could wait; and lying in his chamber now, he cannot help remembering that, as Mr Thackeray expresses it, there comes at last an illness to which there may be no convalescence. What if that illness be already come? And so there is nothing left for him, but to bear the rod with patience, and to exercise a humble faith in the Ruler of all. If he recovers, some half-dozen people will be made happy; if he does not recover, the same number of people will be made miserable for a little while, and, during the next two or three days, acquaintances will meet in the street_“You've heard of poor So-and-so? Very sudden! Who would have thought it? Expect to meet you at — 's on Thursday. Good-bye.” And so the end. Your death and my death are mainly of importance to ourselves. The black plumes will be stripped off our hearses within the hour; tears will dry, hurt hearts close again, our graves grow level with the church-yard, and although we are away, the world wags on. It does not miss us; and those who are near us, when the first strangeness of vacancy wears off, will not miss us much either.

We are curious as to death-beds and death-bed sayings; we wish to know how the matter stands; how the whole thing looks to the dying. Unhappily

-perhaps, on the whole, happily—we can gather no information from these. The dying are nearly as reticent as the dead. The inferences we draw from the circumstances of death, the pallor, the sob, the glazing eye, are just as likely to mislead us as not. Manfred exclaims, “Old man, 'tis not so difficult to die !” Sterling wrote Carlyle “ that it was all very strange, yet not so strange as it seemed to the lookers on.” And so, perhaps, on the whole it is. The world has lasted six thousand years now, and, with the exception of those at present alive, the millions who have breathed upon it-splendid emperors, hornyfisted clowns, little children, in whom thought has never stirred-have died, and what they have done, we also shall be able to do. It may not be so difficult, may not be so terrible, as our fears whisper. The dead keep their secrets, and in a little while we shall be as wise as they—and as taciturn.

WILLIAM DUNBAR.

JF it be assumed that the North Briton is, to an

appreciable extent, a different creature from the Englishman, the assumption is not likely to provoke dispute. No one will deny us the prominence of our cheek-bones, and our pride in the same. How far the difference extends, whether it involves merit or demerit, are questions not now sought to be settled. Nor is it important to discover how the difference arose; how far chiller climate and sourer soil, centuries of unequal yet not inglorious conflict, a separate race of kings, a body of separate traditions, and a peculiar crisis of reformation issuing in peculiar forms of religious worship, confirmed and strengthened the national idiosyncracy. If a difference between the races be allowed, it is sufficient for the present purpose. That allowed, and Scot and Southern being fecund in literary genius, it becomes an interesting inquiry to what extent the great literary men of the one race have influenced the great literary men of the other. On the whole, perhaps, the two races may fairly cry quits. Not unfrequently, indeed, have literary influences arisen in the north and travelled southwards. There were the Scottish ballads, for instance, there was Burns, there was Sir Walter Scott, there is Mr Carlyle. The literary influence represented by each of these arose in Scotland, and has either passed or is passing “in music out of sight” in England. The energy of the northern wave has rolled into the southern waters. On the other hand, we can mark the literary influences travelling from the south northward. The English Chaucer rises, and the current of his influence is long afterwards visible in the Scottish King James, and the Scottish poet Dunbar. That which was Prior and Gay in London, became Allan Ramsay when it reached Edinburgh. Inspiration, not unfrequently, has travelled, like summer, from the south northwards; just as, when the day is over, and the lamps are lighted in London, the radiance of the setting sun is lingering on the splintered peaks and rosy friths of the Hebrides. All this, however, is a matter of the past; literary influence can no longer be expected to travel leisurely from south to north, or from north to south. In times of literary activity, as at the beginning of the present century, the atmosphere of passion or speculation envelops the entire island, and Scottish and English writers simultaneously draw from it what their peculiar natures prompt-just as in the same garden the rose drinks crimson and the convolvulus azure from the superincumbent air.

« ZurückWeiter »