Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

for the bachelier ès-lettres et ès-scienccs, without a farthing of cost to themselves, except examination fees; and, besides these advantages of a higher order, there are free sewing and cutting-out schools for girls belonging to the working classes, and other institutions of a like nature. Now, I should like to have pointed out to me any English town possessed of at all the same advantages--any town, either in England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, affording absolutely gratuitous instruction, not only in technical subjects, but jurisprudence, science, and belles lettres, music, and the fine arts. Let my critics point out the name of such a place in the map, and I will most thankfully amend my statements.

M. BETHAM-EDWARDS.

[blocks in formation]

A DAscotland. In almost every other country the common people are

DAM MELDRUM was a man who could not have been bred out of
Scotland. In almost

every illiterate:' they have no familiarity even with the literature of their own country. Many copies of the popular works published in England during the seventeenth century are still to be met with; but the books printed in Scotland at that time have been read out of existence. Since my boyhood I have made acquaintance, more or less intimate, with many of the old royal or baronial burghs that are planted along the eastern seaboard, and in each of them I have found at least one man of the artisan class who was in the best sense of the word a learned man-a man with a true instinct for, and an absolute devotion to, science or letters or philosophy. One was a watchmaker, who busked the most seductive flies, and knew every salmon cast in the river ; another, who acted as letter-carrier to the community, was learned in the ecclesiastical controversies of the early Church, and in the precise distinctions between the king de facto' and the king.de jure ;' there was a tailor who was versed in moths and butterflies, and a shoemaker who had formed an exquisite collection of the rarer sea-weeds. In like manner, Adam Meldrum, who in his working hours mended old boats, was the naturalist of Peelboro', and knew by heart the plays of Shakespeare and the · Pseudodoxia Epidemica' of Sir Thomas Browne.

This mender of old boats, with the strange fire in his eyes, was rather a puzzle to the worthies of Peelboro'. Uncle Ned,' or · Daddy Longlegs '—the character of a Scotch burgh has always a number of apparently irrelevant aliases: by what process of transmutation Adam Meldrum became · Uncle Ned’or · Daddy Longlegs' it is needless to conjecture-was considered mad by some, uncanny by others. The boys sometimes called him the warlock, which, being translated, means the male witch. If we were to call him one of the primitive saints of science—for science, as well as religion, has its saints—we might, I think, be nearer the mark. The vision and faculty divine is not the exclusive possession of the maker of rhymes. Adam loved nature as the poet loves her. His heart beat when he discovered a rare plant or a rare bird, as the lover's beats in the presence of his mistress. The earth he trod was consecrated ground, and the plants, the trees, the birds, the sea, the stars, spoke to him of an incalculable beneficence.

There is, therefore, some other hand that twines the thread of life than that of nature ; our ends are as obscure as our beginnings;

for the bachelier ès-lettres et ès-sciences, without a farthing of cost to themselves, except examination fees; and, besides these advantages of a higher order, there are free sewing and cutting-out schools for girls belonging to the working classes, and other institutions of a like nature. Now, I should like to have pointed out to me any English town possessed of at all the same advantages—any town, either in England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, affording absolutely gratuitous instruction, not only in technical subjects, but jurisprudence, science, and belles lettres, music, and the fine arts. Let my critics point out the name of such a place in the map, and I will most thankfully amend my statements.

M. BETHAN-EDWARDS.

[blocks in formation]

A

DAM MELDRUM was a man who could not have been bred out of

Scotland. In almost every other country the common people are Cilliterate:' they have no familiarity even with the literature of their own country. Many copies of the popular works published in England during the seventeenth century are still to be met with ; but the books printed in Scotland at that time have been read out of existence. Since my boyhood I have made acquaintance, more or less intimate, with many of the old royal or baronial burghs that are planted along the eastern seaboard, and in each of them I have found at least one man of the artisan class who was in the best sense of the word a learned man-a man with a true instinct for, and an absolute devotion to, science or letters or philosophy. One was a watchmaker, who busked the most seductive flies, and knew every salmon cast in the river ; another, who acted as letter-carrier to the community, was learned in the ecclesiastical controversies of the early Church, and in the precise distinctions between the king de facto' and the king de jure ;' there was a tailor who was versed in moths and butterflies, and a shoemaker who had formed an exquisite collection of the rarer sea-weeds. In like manner, Adam Meldrum, who in his working hours mended old boats, was the naturalist of Peelboro', and knew by heart the plays of Shakespeare and the “Pseudodoxia Epidemica' of Sir Thomas Browne.

This mender of old boats, with the strange fire in his eyes, was rather a puzzle to the worthies of Peelboro'. Uncle Ned,' or Daddy Longlegs '—the character' of a Scotch burgh has always a number of apparently irrelevant aliases : by what process of transmutation Adam Meldrum became Uncle Ned' or Daddy Longlegs ' it is needless to conjecture—was considered mad by some, uncanny by others. The boys sometimes called him “the warlock,' which, being translated, means the male witch. If we were to call him one of the primitive saints of science-for science, as well as religion, has its saints—we might, I think, be nearer the mark. The vision and faculty divine is not the exclusive possession of the maker of rhymes. Adam loved nature as the poet loves her. His heart beat when he discovered a rare plant or a rare bird, as the lover's beats in the presence of his mistress. The earth he trod was consecrated ground, and the plants, the trees, the birds, the sea, the stars, spoke to him of an incalculable beneficence.

“There is, therefore, some other hand that twines the thread of life than that of nature ; our ends are as obscure as our beginnings; the line of our days is drawn by night, and the various effects thereon by a pencil that is invisible; whereof, though we confess our ignorance, I am sure that we do not err if we say it is the hand of God.'

This, more or less formulated, was the creed at which Adam had arrived. He did not belong to any of the ecclesiastical factions which flourished in Peelboro'; he had worked out his own conclusions about life, death, and immortality; yet he had reached what, after all is said that can be said, is truly the divinest divinity. That vague something which philosophers call the · Ego''had become a quite subordinate consideration with Adam. It was merged in a wider life. He was utterly unselfish.

An old comrade who had gone to the south and died there, had left his books to Adam. One morning a parcel arrived by the London smack. It had been despatched from the metropolis three weeks before, but in the year One they thought little of three weeks. Uncle Ned valued it beyond silver and gold. To him, indeed, it was the true El Dorado. It contained the plays of Shakespeare, the works of Sir Thomas Browne, Walton's Angler,' White's - Selborne,' George Edwards' Book of Birds, and a few others, all of which were duly placed on the shelf beside the box-bed in the wall. They grew into his life as the sea and the stars had grown. They represented to him in the moral and intellectual world that high and noble order which he had already discerned in the physical.

Such a man--strange as it may sound to outsiders—was bound to be happy. His surroundings were mean and homely; he was very poor. He had none of the luxuries of life; a crust of stale bread and a cup of cold water from the spring were the dainties to which he was used. But while he was munching his dry crust he was examining with almost passionate rapture the wing-feather of some new or rare bird which he had captured. A stale crust ?—or the nectar and ambrosia of the gods ? What did it matter when the whole ideal volume of science on which to feast was being opened to bim? To such men life is a pure flame, and they live by an invisible sun within them.

Science seeks for the unity without us, as religion seeks for the unity within us. Nothing is so hateful to'science as isolation : nothing so hateful to religion. For isolation is selfishness, and selfishness at bottom is confusion and misery. Preachers have waxed pathetic upon the loneliness of a great soul ; a truly great soul is never lonely. It has infinite relationships. Self ceases to be engrossing. The imperious instincts of the individual consciousness are subdued. It loses itself (as Christianity affirms) in Christ, or (as science affirms) in the immutable and unshaken order of the universe.

To Adam, as I have said, nature was simply the expression of that complaisant activity of which the sea was one aspect, and the Old Testament another, and Shakespeare another, and a rare fern and the skilful mechanism of a sea-bird's wing another and another.

« НазадПродовжити »