Thursday, November 30, 2006

6 December: Boreham on Governor Bligh

A Study in Light and Shade
An interesting study is presented for our contemplation by the circumstance, that we mark today the anniversary of the death of Governor Bligh. Incidentally, the fact may remind us that, in one respect, the infancy of Australia is unique. No other nation under heaven can show, in the crude records of its early days, such a galaxy of massive, gnarled, dynamic personalities. They seem to match the giant gums of our virgin bush. There is something tremendous, even terrifying, about the war-scarred and weatherbeaten stalwarts by whose sinewy hands the malleable destinies of these southern lands were hammered into shape.

Governor Bligh is a case in point. Some of the most eminent writers of all time, including Lord Byron and George Borrow, have undertaken to elucidate for us the mystery of Bligh's enigmatic individuality, but have left us in a welter of hopeless confusion.

Bligh was a faggot of contradictions, an inextricable tangle of inharmonious and hostile qualities. He could be as suave as a courtier, as shrewd as a plenipotentiary, as brave as a lion, and as ferocious as a tiger. He could produce a smile that, conferred upon a subordinate, would make the young officer feel as if he had been invested with a knighthood; and he could unleash a temper that would send a shudder through a battleship or rock Government House to its very foundations.

A Storm Centre By Sea And Shore
Bligh earned his fame the hard way. As to his boyhood, we know nothing and as to his birthplace, we know less. Pints of ink have heen squandered in attempts to prove that he was born in this pretty little Cornish village or in that one.

But what does it matter? The things that do matter are that, at the age of eight, he entered the Navy as a kind of fag to Capt. Keith Stewart, of H.M.S. Monmouth; that, at 16, he became an able seaman on H.M.S. Hunter; that six years later, he was chosen by Capt. Cook to be master of the Resolution on the voyage that cost the redoubtable navigator his life; and that, following his never-to-be-forgotten adventure on the Bounty, he served with distinction under Nelson in the Battle of Copenhagen. "With all my heart I thank you, Bligh," wrote Nelson, concerning that engagement. "You have supported me nobly." By this time Bligh was 47.

In the turbulent hurricane of his stormy life, the gale twice reached peak proportions. The first was when, on April 28, 1789, the mutineers of the Bounty turned him adrift, with 18 companions, in an open boat. The second was when, on January 26, 1808—the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Australia—he was seized by his enemies at Government House, Sydney, and placed under arrest. Four hundred troops marched from their barracks to the tune of "The British Grenadiers" and, swarming into Government House, soon made the Governor their prisoner.

The first of these dramatic episodes led to one of the most amazing epics of the sea ever recorded. As Dr. Mockaness points out, in his monumental biography of Bligh, it is a feat that takes one's breath away. To cross nearly 4,000 miles in a small boat, across uncharted seas, in tempestuous weather, subject to attacks by savages, with totally inadequate provisions, and with companions of whose loyalty he had every reason to be suspicious; all this represents on exploit of almost incredible splendour.

A Scholar Of A Noble School
The debacle at Government House is another story; but, in the judgment of Dr. Mackaness, Bligh again emerges with flying colours. From an enormous mass of material, Dr. Mackaness has compiled "The Case for the Rebels" and "The Case for the Governor;" and, whilst he leaves his readers at liberty to reach their own conclusions, he does not attempt to conceal his own admiration for the behaviour of Bligh.

Bligh was a member of the Banks Brigade. Not content with having financed the expeditions of Captain Cook and with having served on those famous voyages as naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks devoted the days of his retirement to ceaseless efforts to inspire younger men with a passion for exploration. Among other triumphs, he contrived to fire the fancy of Mungo Park, who pioneered the opening up of Africa; of Lachlan Macquarie, who undertook to inaugurate an era of pathfinding in Australia; and of John Franklin, who forced a way through the North-West Passage.

It was under the auspices of Sir Joseph Banks that Bligh was appointed to New South Wales. The fact that, after his return to London, Bligh was promoted to be vice-admiral indicates the official attitude towards the hot-head who had given Whitehall so many headaches. Dr. Mackaness closes his biography by declaring that as an illustrious navigator, bred in the school of Captain Cook, Bligh stands side by side with Vancouver, Flinders, and King; whilst, for audacity and skill, his name will always be bracketed with those of Phillip, Macquarie, and Bourke as men who never turned their backs but marched breast forward.

F W Boreham

Image: Governor Bligh

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

5 December: Boreham on Henry Drummond

A Modern Sir Galahad
The people of Stirling are commemorating today the birth, in their ancient and romantic burgh, of one of the most magnetic and colourful personalities of the nineteenth century. Sir George Adam Smith, his biographer declares, that you might as well attempt to describe a perfume as attempt to describe Henry Drummond. The grandson of the founder of William Drummond and Sons, the great firm of seedsmen, and the son of the founder of the well-known publishing house, Henry found the ball at his feet from the start, and he was quick to make the most of his opportunity. His life long charm was his perfect naturalness and commonsense. Asked in mid-career if, in boyhood, he had any premonition of the course that his afterlife was to take, he replied that a real boy never thinks of such things; he is too busy in being a boy. His favourite pastime was scalp-hunting with other synthetic Red Indians under the shadow of Stirling Castle; his library consisted exclusively of adventure stories; and he acquired a passion for Punch and Judy shows that, to his dying day, never relaxed its hold upon him.

He was, if he himself is to be believed, an incorrigible duffer. "I wish," he said, years afterwards, in addressing the students of Melbourne University, "I wish to talk as a duffer to duffers." If this estimate of his capacity as a student was just, he must have outgrown that youthful stupidity or concealed it most successfully behind the scintillating brilliance of his maturer years. The choice of a career presented, in his case, unusual difficulty. Indeed, it is not certain that he ever solved the problem, for nobody can say, in so many words, exactly what Henry Drummond was. There was scarcely any position that he might not have occupied—and adorned. In actual fact, he was a Presbyterian minister, although he never assumed a ministerial title, never wore a ministerial garb, and never accepted a call to a congregation. Anyone who knew him would have smiled if they had heard him referred to as the Reverend Henry Drummond.

Reconciliation Of Learning And Faith
He became Professor of Natural Science, and his lectures on scientific themes, now published broadcast, were recognised by the Royal Society, the British Association, and other learned bodies, as being extremely valuable contributions to our knowledge of the subjects that he so skilfully treated. Mr. Gladstone tried hard to persuade Drummond to enter Parliament; Lord Aberdeen, when he went to Canada as Governor-General, begged Drummond to accompany him; whilst the McGill University of Montreal did its level best to secure him as its principal. Innumerable were the golden gates that swung open at his approach. He was thirty when he produced his masterpiece. His "Natural Law in the Spiritual World" took everybody by storm. When, 15 years later, its author died, the book had reached its 32nd edition.

Until Drummond's time, earnest and well-educated religious people looked with profound suspicion on the researches of scientists, whilst the sages and savants viewed with ill-disguised contempt all ecclesiastical institutions and spiritual developments. Nobody did more than Henry Drummond to bring about a rapprochement and usher in a better day. No man ever addressed such a variety of audiences. He preached in pulpits; he lectured before the great scientific assemblies; he joined Mr. Moody in dealing with the immense concourses that gathered to hear the American evangelist. He was equally at home among public school boys, university students, bootblacks, crossing-sweepers, African negroes, South Sea islanders, London stockbrokers, Australian squatters, peers of the realm, leaders of society, princes of commerce, captains of industry, doctors, lawyers, bankers, and people of every class and kind.

Personality His Greatest Achievement
The Duke and Duchess of Westminster invited Drummond to conduct meetings in the ballroom of Grosvenor House. Many members of Parliament, including several Cabinet Ministers and Opposition leaders, thronged these gatherings. "The vast and luxurious apartment," says a Press report of the time, "was invariably crowded by a company that included politicians, authors, artists, critics, soldiers, and the headmasters of the great schools. The audience was, without an exception, deeply moved by the utterance of this remarkably equipped and immaculately dressed young man." No sensation was created, but the impression produced was indelible. The audience that Drummond loved best, however, was an audience of one. He was often to be seen going home arm-in-arm with some man who, after a meeting, had asked him a question. He specially loved humanity's oddities. The unconventional, the Bohemian, and the vagrant were his peculiar delight.

But, after all, the choicest thing about Henry Drummond was just Henry Drummond. Bearing himself like a knight, dressing like a duke, and speaking with the caressing persuasiveness of a lover, he made himself master of all hearts. He was, Ian Maclaren says, a singularly handsome man; "and those who met him on the streets of Glasgow, wearing round his fine shoulders his tartan plaid of green and black, will carry to their graves a memory of extraordinary grace and winsomeness." Sir George Adam Smith declares that those who knew him will always think of him as the most Christ-like man they ever met. Late one Saturday night, a woman called at his home in deep distress. "My husband is deein', sir," she sobbed. "He's no able to speak to you, and he's no able to hear you; but I'd like him to hae a breath o' you aboot him afore he dees!" No incident could convey more faithfully the impression created on the popular mind by the fascinating personality of Henry Drummond.

F W Boreham

Image: Henry Drummond

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

4 December: Boreham on Dr Fell

Our Likes and Dislikes
As we approach the Christmas season, with its atmosphere of peace and goodwill, we are all secretly disturbed by the thought of the people whom we instinctively dislike. They are epitomised in Doctor Fell.

Doctor Fell is the natural representative of the people we instinctively dislike. We have nothing against them; we wish we had; it would act as a salve to our uneasy consciences. We should feel, in that case, that we were justified in detesting them. But these people have done us no injury. Neither in thought, word, nor deed have they offended us. They have left undone no single thing that they should have done; and they have been guilty of nothing that they should have left undone. Yet there it is!

I do not like you, Doctor Fell;
The reason why I cannot tell:
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like you, Doctor Fell.

In our better moments we take ourselves to task for cherishing so unworthy a feeling concerning those who have done nothing to deserve our disapprobation; but it makes no difference.

There are two classes of people that are an abomination to most of us. There are the people whom we dislike with a clear perception of the reasons for our aversion, and there are the people whom we dislike without knowing why we dislike them. Concerning the former we lose very little sleep. The qualities in them that have excited our loathing affectively vindicate us. Knowing the cause of our antipathy, we have something to say to our consciences. Our defence may be a pitifully lame one, but, for all that, it is a defence; and it is always a comfort, when accused, to have a retort on the tip of one's tongue. The Poet at the Breakfast Table made a list of these people—the people whom he disliked, knowing why he disliked them. They were five in number. There was the man who seemed omniscient; he knew everything. There was the loud man; the man who bursts upon the company like a tidal wave of animal vitality. There was the antithesis to this man, the man who was always talking of his aches and pains. There was the man who, bubbling over with family pride, always adopted the grand manner. And there was the man who, fawning and gushing goes into boisterous ecstacies whenever he meets you in the street. He is really too glad to see you.

Dislike, Like Murder, Will Out
Most of us could drew up a similar list. Our list might differ from the Poet's list; but the principle is the same. We dislike these people; we know why we dislike them; and our knowledge sets all our scruples at rest. But this does not cover the case of Doctor Fell. Doctor Fell represents quite another kettle of fish; and in that kettle are all the people whom we dislike for no apparent reason. We feel ashamed of our unreasoning antipathy; and the worst of it is that the discovery of our misdemeanour is so certain. One may be able to withdraw a man's purse from his pocket without them detecting the larceny, but no man can withdraw his affection from his friend's person without being found out. The network of nerves by which we sense such things is extremely delicate and marvellously accurate. By the time that one recognises his antipathy for a man, he has described a triangle. The three sides, so far as Doctor Fell is concerned are these: (l) I do not like Dr. Fell; (2) Dr. Fell knows that I dislike him; and (3) Dr. Fell does not like me.

These three things are inseparable. There are some things that must exist with all their parts or they do not exist at all. You can take the arm from a chair and still have a chair; you can remove the shell from an egg and still have an egg; but you cannot detach any section from a triangle and still have a triangle. In exactly the same way, these three emotional conditions subsist together in uttermost dependence on each other. I dislike him; he knows that I dislike him; he dislikes me. The vital question is: Is this state of things necessarily permanent?

Whys And Wherefores Of Personal Prejudice
It is important that on its first appearance a prejudice should be challenged. It may be fundamental and ineradicable; it probably is, but we must not too easily take such finality for granted. We very seldom form an enduring attachment for those whom, at the first, we thoroughly dislike; yet it does occasionally happen that we learn to love one from whom we at first shrank in uncertainty. We must give Dr. Fell a fair chance. It may be cruelly unjust to him, and a life-long deprivation to ourselves, to add his name too hurriedly to the list of our pet aversions. When we are conscious that a pronounced dislike is creeping into our hearts, we must, in fairness alike to its object and to ourselves, dispute its entrance and endeavour to keep it out, and then, if its exclusion proves absolutely impossible, we must give it houseroom only under protest.

The danger is that most of us are too prone to get into ruts and grooves. We read a certain book; are infatuated by it; and henceforth we need only books by the same author, or by men of his class. We take a fancy to a certain flower; the garden is soon full of it to the exclusion of many other blooms of surpassing loveliness and perfume. In the same way, we cultivate a taste for a certain species of individuality, and we collect about us some very fine specimens of that particular pattern. It may be that our repugnance for Dr. Fell arises from the fact that he, with all his excellences, does not conform to that exact type. We meet him on the street. We squirm inwardly as we see him approach and wish that we could have been spared the necessity of conversing with him; and then, as soon as he has gone, we lash ourselves unmercifully for cherishing so unworthy a sentiment. In this matter, as in so many others, the root of the matter is to be found in the choicest personal record ever penned. The Central Figure in the New Testament had His preferences. He particularly loved the rich young ruler and the members of the Bethany household. But He managed His preferences and His prejudices so skilfully that He attracted everybody and alienated nobody. Even His enemies secretly felt that the uncrossable chasm between themselves and Him was a chasm of their own creation.

F W Boreham

Image: G K Chesterton's Dr. Gideon Fell

Monday, November 27, 2006

3 December: Boreham on Joseph Conrad

Sailor and Seer
Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of the really notable characters in modern literary history. Joseph Conrad was reared in the school of hard knocks. As a boy he loved to cajole his grand-uncle Nicholas into relating the story of the retreat from Moscow. The grizzled old soldier would tell of a certain ill-bred dog that, among the gloomy pine trees in a snow-clad ravine, chanced to bark. That bark saved the lives of three officers in Napoleon's army who must otherwise have perished of starvation. It was a mangy, diseased, revolting kind of dog, but it was something in the nature of food, and that was enough. Listening to the story the boy Conrad would shudder and remark that he could not have eaten the disgusting beast. "That," his uncle would retort, "is because you have never been hungry." In the years to follow, however, circumstances were to arise, and frequently, in which Conrad would have been grateful if a dog like that of which his uncle told could suddenly have appeared and barked at him. And, in recording the incident, he gives an unappetising list of the sickening viands to which he himself had sometimes been reduced.

Books As An Escape
As a boy Conrad imbibed his fondness both for literature and for the sea. He was a Pole, his full name being Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski. Some critics have thought it strange that a boy born in a country without a seaboard should have longed so passionately for a life on the ocean wave. But most boys are built that way. They fling a haze of romance about the unseen and crave most ardently the experiences of which they have no personal knowledge. Conrad's childhood left him ample time for reading. His parents spent many of their years in exile. On one occasion, which always seemed to him the most golden memory of boyhood, his mother was liberated for three months because she appeared to be dying, and she was still extremely ill when the short respite came to an end and she was dragged back into captivity once more. In those harsh days the boy relieved the tedium of life with books. "Since the age of five," he says, "I have been a great reader. At 10 years of age I had read much of Victor Hugo and other romantics. I had read, in Polish and in French, history, voyages, and novels. I knew Gil Blas and Don Quixote. I had read the Polish and French poets. A little later he fell under the spell of Dickens, Thackeray, Scott, and Shakespeare.

A World Articulate
His reading awoke the wanderlust. At the age of nine he came upon a map of Africa. "Suddenly," he says, "I put my finger on the blank space that then represented the unsolved mystery of that continent, and, with absolute assurance and fine audacity, said to myself 'When I grow up I shall go there!'" Surely enough he did! Indeed, it is difficult to find a spot on the earth's broad surface that he did not visit. He was perfectly at home with a Chinese mandarin, an Indian rajah, a Zulu chief, or a South Sea Island king. He loved novelty, danger, and romance; he developed a genius for finding what he loved and later he developed a still more valuable genius for describing what he found. He was the ideal adventurer and always looked the part. The best description of him is that of Mr. H. G. Wells who knew him intimately. "He impressed me," says Mr. Wells, "as the strangest of creatures. He was rather short and round-shouldered, with his head, as it were, sunken into his body. He had a dark retreating face with a very carefully trimmed and sharply-pointed black beard, a trouble-wrinkled forehead and very worried dark eyes. The gestures of his hands and arms were from the shoulders and were very oriental indeed." Mr. Wells adds that Conrad always reminded him of Du Maurier's Svengali, and those who know Trilby will understand. All who knew him agree that you could not spend five minutes in his company without being aware of his exceptional character and extraordinary powers.

Artistry Of The Ocean
Conrad knew the sea as few men have known it. From cabin-boy to captain, Conrad passed through all the ranks. His mind was richly stored with memories of hair-breadth escapes and blood-curdling adventures. He longed, passionately and incessantly, to portray, and to portray vividly, all that he had seen. His original ambition was to be an artist. "The artist," he reminded himself, "speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the instinct of mystery surrounding our lives, to our sense of beauty and pity and pain, to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation, to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, and to the communion in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear which binds together all humanity—the dead to the living, and the living to the unborn." Imbued with this lofty ideal Conrad resolved that, if he could not paint with a brush, he would paint with a pen, and, loyal to the vision that had broken so resistlessly upon him, he set to work to make his name immortal.

Visionary and Realist
To a mind so sensitive and impressionable, the ocean is a field of romance, a realm of wonder, waiting to be exploited. From its blue and dancing surface to its vast abysmal depths, everything about it challenges that spirit of adventure which is the finest feature of an imaginative mentality. The surface of the ocean is all movement, the depth is all mystery, and these two, movement and mystery, are the breath of life to a mind like the mind of Conrad. His art lay in interweaving these twin elements of movement and mystery with the texture of life and suffering and passion. "I like," says Mr. J. H. Randall, "to think of Joseph Conrad, during those many years he spent at sea, standing night after night on the deck of his vessel, peering out with steady, alert eyes into the darkness whither his ship was driving, and reflecting, as his mind was bound to reflect, on the meaning of existence and the significance of human experience." His head might be among the stars but his feet were firmly planted on his quarter-deck, and it is this unfailing association of his most audacious dreams with the actual and pressing facts of real life that has imparted to his pages the poetical and practical charm that has appealed so poignantly to every reader.

F W Boreham

Image: Joseph Conrad

Sunday, November 26, 2006

2 December: Boreham on Lord Leighton

The Aristocracy of Art
No picture that ever graced the walls of a gallery reflected so much honour on British art as did the knightly personality of Lord Leighton, whose birthday it happens to be tomorrow. He was known at the Royal Academy as the Prince of Presidents, and not only deserved, but adorned, that proud and resounding title. He was princely in his appearance and behaviour, princely in the magnificence of his conceptions and the splendour of his execution, princely in his chivalry, his generosity, his courtesy.

Nobody passed him on the street without turning to bestow upon his striking figure the homage of a second glance. In common with Longfellow and Walt Whitman, he had the type of face that, had he been an actor, would have fitted him to take the central role in a Passion Play.

Always immaculately dressed and carrying himself with perfect poise, he was the most magnetic and arresting figure in every company that he joined; and, with a mind richly stored by diligent study and ceaseless travel, he treated his companions to a constant flow of sparkling wit and delicious humour. Few personalities in English society were more admired or more honoured than was he.

Art His Plaything And His Passion
Leighton had the ball at his feet from the start. His father, a doctor, was determined that, whatever gifts his boy displayed, he should enjoy every possible advantage in developing them. He noticed that Frederick, at the age of five, made sketches of all the cats and dogs, the odds and ends, about the home. Fearing that this passion for the pencil might indicate merely a childish infatuation, the good man took his boy on a Continental tour; but, in each of the capitals visited, the things that Frederick insisted on seeing were the masterpieces of the great painters. On their return to England, Dr. Leighton showed his son's prentice efforts to some of the most eminent painters of the period, seeking their advice. "Sir," said one of them, "you have no say in this matter. Nature has already decided for you. Your son is a born artist!" And the perplexed father wisely regarded the die as having been cast.

Leighton's debut was auspicious, if not sensational. His first notable effort was a spacious, animated and colourful canvas depicting "The Procession of Cimabue's Madonna through the streets of Florence." As soon as it was finished, he sent it to the Academy. Never has a new and unknown person achieved a greater initial triumph. In defiance of all precedent, the hanging committee accorded to a stranger the place of honour in that year's exhibition. The most distinguished artists of the day acclaimed it; the critics, forgetting their traditional reserve, indulged in a hurricane of superlatives, and, to complete the young painter's coronation, Queen Victoria herself purchased it.

The years that followed were marked by two outstanding features—the amazing fecundity of Leighton's genius, and the unceasing flow of the honours lavished upon him. His output was as stupendous in quantity as it was superb in quality. He was soon buried beneath an avalanche of bouquets. Crowned heads heaped on him their most coveted distinctions. In 1878 he was made President of the Royal Academy—the most illustrious President since Sir Joshua Reynolds. And in the last year of his life he was made a baron, the Queen expressing her delight at his acceptance of the peerage.

A Lady's Man And A Bachelor
But when all is said and done, the finest thing about Leighton is the engaging personality of the man himself. He is much more than an artist. His life, as G. F. Watts declared, was more noble than anything in his work. The nineteenth century regarded him as a perfect type of the English gentleman. Generous to a fault, he gave away his money almost as soon as he had earned it. The soul of chivalry, he was ever eager to place his knowledge, experience and counsel at the disposal of a struggling beginner. Tennyson had but one fault to find with Leighton; he did not smoke. We, viewing things from the standpoint of posterity, may be permitted to indulge a much more poignant regret. He never married.

He was noted for the charming old world courtliness with which he consistently behaved towards women. G. F. Watts, who lived near him, once entertained an elderly French lady whose husband, years before, Leighton had known well. Watts took his guest round to Leighton's home to introduce her. Leighton received her, Watts says, as if she were a queen. He knelt and kissed her hand. The old lady was completely overcome by his natural grace and ready homage; to the end of her days she never ceased to sing the praises of the great painter's perfect knightliness.

Yet, although he painted the most exquisite pictures of beautiful women that his period produced, and although his "Wedded" was probably the most popular engraving of his time—greatly in demand as a wedding present—he himself died a bachelor! We can only console ourselves with the reflection that, though his genius is not perpetuated by successive generations bearing his honoured name, his work is still ours, whilst his influence will be felt, and felt for good, through long centuries to come.

F W Boreham

Image: Lord Leighton

1 December: Boreham on Allen Gardiner

A Sailor's Centenary
A hundred years ago this week, on Thursday, December 5, 1850, Capt. Allen Gardiner and his companions were landed on the inhospitable shores of Tierra del Fuego on an expedition, the movements of which were involved in inscrutable mystery until the bones of its members were discovered more than a year later by the crew of H.M.S. Dido.[1] Since the world began, no man ever drew up for himself so novel and hazardous a programme, or paid so cruel a price for carrying his scheme into effect, as did Gardiner. If he could not be the screw that would hold a broken world together, he determined to be the gimlet that should prepare the way for the screw.

The fifth son of a Berkshire squire, Allen Gardiner never hesitated for a moment as to the choice of a profession. As a small boy he heard one name mentioned every day in accents of reverential affection. With the country threatened by the horrors of a Napoleonic invasion, Lord Nelson was the idol and hope of the nation. At that great sailor's shrine, Allen offered the boyish hero-worship of an intense and passionate nature. He was only 11 when England was stirred, as she had never been stirred before, by the news of Trafalgar. The dramatic victory of the fleet, the deliverance of the nation, and the hero's glorious death made an impression on the lad's sensitive mind that he vividly remembered to his dying day. Every chord in his soul vibrated with the tense emotion of that tremendous hour; and, within three years, he himself strutted proudly before his school fellows in a naval uniform.

Blazing A Trail For Civilisation
Readers of Smollett know what the navy was like in those days. In clambering up the side of a man-of-war, Allen was entering a school of hard knocks; and, for a few years, it seemed as if the finer susceptibilities of his dawning manhood were being blunted by the kind of life he was compelled to live. At this critical stage, a variety of circumstances shaped his destiny. To begin with, he distinguished himself in action on several occasions and won swift promotion. Then, in 1820, whilst his ship, the Leader, was lying at anchor in the Straits of Malacca, he received a letter that changed the whole course of his life. Allen's mother having died, her most intimate friend felt moved to write to the young officer urging him to maintain in his own life the gracious tradition that had made his mother's so beautiful. The letter, couched in terms as tactful as they were persuasive, made a profound impression. The emotions that it awakened led to faith and to a passionate desire to devote his days to some lofty enterprise.

Consecrating his nautical skill to the most sublime ends, he determined to penetrate earth's darkest continents—Africa and South America—in order to open a way for the Cross. He would be a harbinger and a pathfinder among the most barbarous and degraded races of mankind. Taking the entire world as the sphere of his activities, he pierced the interior of Africa, daring a thousand deaths among Hottentots, Kaffirs, and Zulus. We catch fitful glimpses of him, now intervening between hostile tribes; now undertaking a perilous march among mountains reputed to be impassable; and anon lying at the point of starvation among the reeds of the swampy river-bed, listening to the snorting and grunting of the hippopotami around him. At different stages of his colourful career, we find him at Tahiti, at Borneo, at Papua, at the most outlandish places; but ever with one end in view. He will carve a path through the jungle for the missionary.

The Scientist Points The Way To The Sailor
In due course, he made his way to the Falkland Islands, and, from that chilly outpost, looked wistfully across the intervening seas at the snow-capped and storm-swept coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Darwin thought the Fuegians the least human and most debased inhabitants of the planet. That being so, they had a special fascination for Allen Gardiner. They were the very people for whom he was searching. He sailed into the blizzard; crossed the narrow stretch of snow-swept sea; and, with a smile on his fine face, went cheerfully to his death. The annals of human adventure contain few records more moving than the story of those last dreadful weeks on that frozen coast.

It was on January 21, 1852, that the captain of H.M.S. Dido found the remains. He discovered first some directions crudely painted upon a rock; then a boat; then the bodies; and, last of all, the records. It is amazing, as Gardiner's biographer points out, that these documents survived. "The tide had ebbed and flowed without doing serious injury to these fragmentary memorials," he says. "The spray, the wind, and the rain had done their worst; but the handwriting remained clear." In those tragic sentences, there is no syllable of complaint; with a gaiety that seems incredible, Gardiner and his comrades awaited, in the bleakest of environments, the inevitable end. In all these letters, he begs, with pathetic reiteration, that the missionary societies will enter Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego without a moment's delay. His wish was respected. Years afterwards, Charles Darwin declared that the transformation effected in Tierra del Fuego was one of the most astounding achievements of which he had ever heard or read; and, although the activities of Christian missions were not quite in his line, he liberally supported the prosecution of the work that had been initiated in response to Capt. Allen Gardiner's dying challenge. On the bleak, forbidding territories that taper down to Cape Horn, the gallant captain's name is still held in honour and a mission ship, bearing that name, is among the monuments that perpetuate his memory.

F W Boreham

Image: Allen Gardiner

[1] This editorial appears in the Hobart Mercury on December 2, 1950.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

30 November: Boreham on Jonathan Swift

A Cynic and his Secret
It is difficult to mention the name of Jonathan Swift, whose birthday this is, without being oppressed by his sheer tremendousness. To think of him, as Thackeray once said, is like thinking of an empire falling. He was massive, portentous, ghoulish. As darksome as a noonday thundercloud, he was at the same time as brilliant as forked lightning at midnight. There are times when he excites not only our applause but our affection. We sit at his feet fascinated and entranced. The sprightliness of his wit and the resistlessness of his mirth captivate our fancy and hold us spellbound. Then, quite suddenly and without any apparent reason, the fine face becomes disfigured by a sneer. He becomes cynical, sardonic, caustic, brutal, and displays ungovernable passion. He shocks us by his coarseness, and we turn away in disillusionment and disgust. There was one woman whose scrutiny detected under the forbidding exterior of Swift's appalling personality potential virtues that no eyes but hers could see. And, in point of fact, those latent potentialities were almost transformed into concrete actualities under the spell of her presence, her trust and her charm. Mr. Austin Dobson says that when, in writing to Stella, Swift bent over the paper that her dainty fingers were so soon to handle and her fond eyes to scan, the leer and the grimace entirely vanished from his countenance, and his expression became indescribably wistful and tender.

Singularly Lovable
The whole man was transfigured. In the process of loving, he himself became singularly lovable. The relationship between these two is one of the most mystifying in our annals. They were both orphans, and both fell under the patronage and protection of Sir William Temple at Moor Park. She was some years his junior, and, in the early days of their acquaintance, he was engaged as her tutor. "She grew," he tells us, "into a most charming girl and was looked upon as one of the most beautiful, most graceful, and most agreeable young women in London. Her hair was blacker than a raven and every feature in her face was perfection." If only Stella had been given a free hand with this gnarled lover of hers what a masterpiece she might have produced!

Swift's correspondence with Stella presents us with some of the most exquisite love letters ever written. It is scarcely credible that they issued from the same pen as the pages that awaken our horror and our indignation. Under Mr. Dobson's guidance we have seen his rugged face assume an unwanted sweetness as he indites his letters to her. It is worthwhile glancing again at the moment at which a letter from her is brought to him. Lying in bed, he hesitates to open it, so that he can the longer enjoy, the bliss of anticipation. Since he cannot caress her shapely hand, he fondly strokes the envelope. "And now," he exclaims, "let us see what this saucy, dear, dear letter says! Come out, letter; come out of the envelope! I see it there, but it will not come out. Come out again, I say! Ah, here it is! Now hold up your head like a good letter!" And so on. There is no end to his softness and sentimentality when Stella is concerned. She lit in his soul a lofty arid ardent devotion. He cannot bear her to be out of his sight. On one occasion they were separated for 10 days. He prays, he tells her, that he may never again know such anguish as long as he lives. Her death, when he was 61, nearly killed him. No man ever loved a woman more purely than he loved her. She was the light of his eyes and the breath of his nostrils. His sun rose when she appeared and set when she withdrew. He watched her raven hair as, with the years, it became as white as snow. He lavished on her all the treasure of a singularly wayward and passionate heart. Did they ever marry? Nobody knows. He who carefully studies the arguments on both sides will find them equally unconvincing. If they did marry, the marriage consisted purely of a ceremony—a solemn and legal assurance he desired to give her that no other woman should ever be his wife. Three reasons have been advanced to explain Swift's amazing self-denial. To begin with, Stella was of doubtful origin and Swift was haunted by an ugly suspicion that, possibly, she was his own half-sister. Quite apart from this, however, he felt strongly that no man afflicted with an incurable disease ought to marry. Swift suffered ceaseless torture from such a malady, and he shrank from the idea of bequeathing his agonies to another generation.

Approach Of Insanity
And then there stands the stark and undeniable fact that Swift knew perfectly well that, in all human probability, his body would survive his brain. His whole life was clouded by the steady approach of insanity. His devotion to Stella recoiled from the thought of involving her in so terrible a calamity. And so, with a touchingly unselfish fidelity, he loved her to the day of her death. And, having laid her to rest, he plunged into the abysmal darkness that he had so long dreaded. His brilliant mind became a total wreck. After his death a mellow envelope was found among his papers. It contained a single lock cut from Stella's head. On the envelope he had scrawled: "Only a woman's hair." It was the last pathetic episode in a strangely captivating and uplifting romance. What would Swift have been if Stella had taken the place to which, in normal circumstances, she would have ascended? Some of the most eminent critics—men like William Hazlitt, Sir Leslie Stephen, and Lord Macaulay—have attempted to analyse the baffling personality of Jonathan Swift, but in every case they have abandoned the task in despair. He stands before us a majestic, melancholy, depressing figure, albeit marked by a certain terrific grandeur. We owe him much. After burning the rubbish that is fit only for the incinerator, we still possess "Gulliver's Travels," and by Gulliver the world will always prefer to remember him. Yet even Gulliver was written spitefully. The grotesque characters in Lilliput and Brobdingnag were created to symbolise certain eminent personages of that drab and uninteresting period; the diverting incidents were designed as caricatures and lampoons of current happenings. Upon the Twentieth Century, that political significance is entirely lost. As to the persons pilloried and the actions ridiculed nobody now knows and nobody now cares. Yet strangely enough, the story, stripped of its original design, still stands among our classics. The bitterness is spent; the venom ceases to sting; the acid has so mellowed as to have become appetising. The humour alone remains and, with it, the memory of a colossal personality who stands among the magnificent might-have-beens of history.

F W Boreham

Image: Jonathan Swift

29 November: Boreham on John Bunyan

Immortality of Simplicity
Quite apart from his saintly life and apostolic ministry, John Bunyan, whose birthday this happens to be, cuts a great figure in English life and English literature. He was a plain, blunt, honest man, of whom men of all nations and all creeds now think with peculiar kindness and sincere gratitude. Lord Morley had no sympathy with the peculiar tenets that Bunyan taught; but, when he set himself to produce the library known as the English Men of Letters series, he gave Bunyan a foremost place on his list and entrusted the writing of that notable volume to the capable hands of James Anthony Froude.

The very fact that writers of the calibre of Southey, Coleridge, Macaulay, Froude, Green, Besant, and Kipling have all thought it worth their while to study carefully, and expound exhaustively, the secret of Bunyan's extraordinary influence is the best possible proof that Bunyan is a great cosmopolite. Whether we endorse his views or deride them matters little. We like the man; we admire his transparent sincerity; we enjoy his writings; and we pay respectful homage to his genius. It is on these grounds that, incongruous as the proceeding would have seemed to Bunyan, a noble monument to his illustrious memory was placed in Westminster Abbey.

The charm of Bunyan is that he is always himself. He sprang from the meanest stratum of English society and was never ashamed of his humble origin. In his poem on Bunyan, Kipling calls him the lowest of the low. "I was of poor and inconsiderable generation," he himself tells us, "my father's house being of that rank that is most despised. I never went to school to Aristotle and Plato, but was brought up in my parents' home in the poorest circumstances among a company of simple country folk." He never forgot this and never tried to forget it.

Lasting Lustre Of Effortless Triumph
When, with the passage of the years, he put pen to paper, he expressed himself in the simple homespun speech with which, from childhood, he was most familiar. There is nowhere anything grandiloquent, efflorescent or highfalutin about a word that he says. He never tried to write; he just wrote. The simplicity of his soul found perfect and natural articulation in the crystalline clarity of his own native speech. For this very reason, Macaulay, our severest judge of style, commends "The Pilgrim's Progress," to all literary aspirants as the supreme and incomparable pattern. There is, he says, no book in our literature on which he would so readily stake the fame of the old, unpolluted English; no book which shows so well how rich the language is in its own proper wealth, and how little it has been improved by all that it has borrowed. No writer has ever received, or desired, higher praise.

In more ways than one Bunyan was an astonishment to himself. It always seemed to him a sort of sublime jest that he, a villager by birth and a tinker by trade, should have become an author of considerable renown; and it amused him to find himself with a pen in his hand. It seemed incredible that, as if by magic, the folios were multiplying beneath his fingers at such a rate that they threatened to become a book. His pen simply bolted, he tells us; he could not check it; it raced on and on and on; and, before he knew it, the work was complete. Yet, great as was the surprise of the achievement, it was destined to be eclipsed by a still greater astonishment—the astonishment of its success.

Bunyan was not among those who, unrecognised by his contemporaries, made a pathetic but triumphant appeal to posterity. He would undoubtedly have been amazed had he been told that, three centuries after his death, his works would be sold by the million and translated into the languages of all civilised peoples. Yet even this would have seemed scarcely more astounding than the sensation that he actually witnessed.

Varied Life And Valiant Death
He died in 1688 at the age of 60. By that time "The Pilgrim's Progress" had passed through ten editions in English and had been translated into several tongues. And, as Green observes in his "Short History of the English People," its favour, especially among the middle classes and the poor, has grown steadily from his day to our own. It is, Green adds, the most popular and widely known of English books, incomparable in exquisite simplicity, peerless in literary power. Bunyan's is the most easy and unstudied conquest in the entire range of our varied history.

During those sixty years of his, from 1628 to 1688, Bunyan lived a strangely chequered and adventurous life. Rudyard Kipling describes him as:

"A tinker out of Bedford; a vagrant oft in quod;
A private under Fairfax; a
minister of God."

He lived through all the seething agitation of the Revolution—the King was sent to the scaffold in the year in which Bunyan came of age—yet no slightest surge of the fever and tumult of those restless years found its way into his writings. He clearly felt that the bitterness and the strife were but for a day, and he elected to root his life and work in the tranquillity that is dear to all the ages. His end, as Froude remarks, was characteristic. A father and son had quarrelled at Reading. Bunyan decided to ride over from Bedford in the hope of reconciling them. He succeeded, but at the cost of his life. He was drenched to the skin by a storm on the journey home. The chill, falling on a constitution already weakened by illness and hardship, brought on a fever. In 10 days he was dead. But, as so often happens, his death made little difference to him. It was merely an episode in his triumphal progress. In reality he was never so much alive as he is today. His books represent his most imposing monument; and, in the writings of those who have modelled themselves on his perfect style, he lives a thousand lives, quite anonymously but with tremendous effect.

F W Boreham

Image: Grave of John Bunyan, Bunhill Fields, London.

28 November: Boreham on Washington Irving

A Master of Mockery
It was on November 28, 1859, that Washington Irving died. Essentially a pioneer, it was he who started the brave chorus in which all the later voices joined. He led the imposing procession of American writers—Longfellow, Lowell, Motley, Prescott Hawthorne, Whitman, Emerson, Bancroft, and the rest—which the whole world so gladly hailed and so heartily applauded. As in so many other cases, it was adversity that first drove Irving to his desk. He was by inclination a gipsy; indeed, he retained something of his wanderlust to the last day of his life. As soon as he came of age he crossed the Atlantic and became a nomad in the older world. Fond of music, sport, dancing, and the theatre, and passionately fond of every form of beauty, he was dazzled by the gaiety of Europe and feasted on it to the full. Fond, too, of excellent company, he became intimate with men like Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, and Thomas Moore. The liveliest and most genial of companions, his bonhomie, sprightly wit, and excellent taste secured for him an eager welcome into the best English society.

As soon as he reached the age of 35, however, fate demanded that he should take life a little more seriously. The legal business in which he was a sleeping partner became bankrupt and he was thrown entirely upon his own resources. He had already done a little writing and met with some success. He now resolved to set to work in earnest. He wrote his famous "Sketch Book," with its entrancing description of an old-fashioned English Christmas. And, in the same pages, he introduced to the world the fantastic figure of Rip Van Winkle. The work was an immediate success and, like a wise man having found his metier, Irving followed up his triumph with other productions of a similar kind.

Magnetism And Romance Of Old Madrid
Having retrieved his fallen fortunes by the prosperity of his pen, Irving again fell a victim to his gipsying propensities. In visiting and revisiting the capitals of Europe, his thoughts somehow turned with special wistfulness to old Madrid. He wrote to his friend, Alexander Everett, the United States Minister in that city. Everett urged him to come and to translate Navarette's "Voyages of Columbus" which had just been published. The suggestion was most happy and most fruitful, for it led Irving to a still finer achievement. The more he saw of Spain the more it appealed to him. Its street scenes alone captivated his fancy. He gazed with speechless ecstasy upon the lively pageant—the men with their swarthy countenances, gay tunics, and picturesque sombreros; the women with their flashing dark eyes, black and braided hair, and quaint but dainty costumes; the troops of laughing children who seemed to have nowhere to go and nothing to do; the round-faced priests in their brown cassocks; the swarms of beggars in all phases of decrepitude; the countless array of donkeys and mules with their tinkling bells, fluttering tassels, and enormous panniers; the goats and fowls that wandered aimlessly amid the traffic; and the babel of unintelligible sound that, everlastingly changing, seemed everlastingly the same.

And then the whole scene became transformed. As if by magic, his mind swung from the vision of modern Spain, as it unfolded itself around him, to the vision of ancient Spain—Spain at the apex of her glory, Spain as mistress of mart and of main, the Spain that used to be! Why should he not render articulate that gleaming hoard of priceless romance? The conception fired his imagination, and the more he pondered it the more irresistible the challenge became. It entirely captured his heart and lured him to the execution of those masterpieces with which his name will always be associated.

Secret Sadness Left His Work Defective
The tragedy in the life of Washington Irving is represented by the fact that when, at the age of 76 he died, he died a bachelor. With some men such a circumstance is scarcely matter for serious comment. It hardly affects the situation. In Irving's case it is vital. The fact that he died unmarried seems a violation of all his deepest and most fundamental instincts. From his earliest days he was passionately fond of women. A pretty woman was to him the richest adornment of any street down which he walked. One after the other he loved several women. One after the other several women—the widow of Shelley among the number—loved him. But by some impish freak of a capricious fortune, the women whom he loved were never the women who loved him, and the women who loved him were never the women whom he loved. Irving's best critics agree that, if the fates had dealt more kindly with him in this respect, he would have been a still greater writer. His own unfortunate experience rendered him shy of attempting to deal with the profounder impulses and more passionate emotions. His work lacks tremendousness. The heart is seldom stirred; the depths are never broken up.

Our regret is the more poignant when we reflect that, a born knight, Irving possessed all the qualities that women most admire. Thoughtful, courtly, unselfish, the instincts of a fine chivalry coursed in his veins. His self-abnegation in evacuating, in favour of a heavily-handicapped rival, a field of research that specially appealed to him, has won the applause of each subsequent generation. After having collected all the material for his "Conquest of Mexico," he discovered that W. H. Prescott, who was almost blind, had set his heart upon a similar line of investigation. Irving instantly withdrew, leaving the task to Prescott. "Prescott will never know what it cost me!" Irving confided to his nephew. The act was characteristic of him. High-minded, magnanimous, and always willing to subserviate his personal interests to those of others, he brightened every life that touched his own. The cluster of classics he has bequeathed to us will always be treasured as his most eloquent and most enduring monument.

F W Boreham

Image: Washington Irving

27 November: Boreham on St. Andrew's Day

Oatmeal and Molasses
No Scotsman worthy of the name will need to be reminded that St. Andrew's Day is drawing near. The occasion suggests an inquiry as to the place that Scotland now holds in the world of letters. If, as profane minds sometimes allege, Scotsmen are in the habit of praying for a guid conceit o' themselves, they must have recognised an answer to their fervent supplications in the generous tributes that have been paid in recent years to their most distinctive writers. For many a long day it was the fashion to say that there was no such thing as Scottish literature.

Truth to tell, Scotsmen have themselves done little to allure us to the works of their countrymen. One of the essential ingredients of great literature is sentiment, and, generation after generation, Scotsmen have indignantly repudiated any susceptibility to such softness. The world, supposing that these hard-headed Scots knew what they were talking about, accepted this solemn assurance. Cherishing implicit confidence in the integrity of the Scot, it took him at his own valuation. He was dour and canny. He gloried in appearing rugged, crabbed, austere, passionless, and stern. Other men—Irishmen particularly— might be emotional, impressionable, sentimental; but not he! No, most emphatically, not he! His heart, he pretended, was made of granite; there was never a catch in his breath, a lump in his throat or a tear in his eye. To such contemptible weaknesses he was a total stranger.

A New School Betrays An Old Secret
The most astonishing literary find of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the essential sentimentality of the Scotsmen. Its incredulity once shattered, the world realised to its amazement that the flinty tradition attaching to Scotsmen was based upon a clever pose; it was all camouflage and makebelieve. The sturdy souls who dwelt among the heather-draped mountains and moorlands of the North were actually capable of stirring a taste of molasses into their honest oatmeal porridge! The richest vein of sentimental literature which, during the Victorian era, was given to mankind was the graceful and affecting literature that revealed the unsuspected beauty of the inner character of the Scottish people. It was Dr. George Macdonald who let the cat out of the bag. Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns had occasionally come very near to the betrayal of the ancient secret. But they succeeded in conveying the impression that the characters who, exciting our emotions, brought moisture to our eyes, were exceptional and by no means typical. They as good as told us that we must on no account assume, from these remarkable exhibitions of romantic proclivities, that the Scottish people as a whole are capable of manifesting such pitiable frailties. But Dr. George Macdonald made no bones about it. Before Sir Walter Scott had reposed for a quarter of a century in his grave at Dryburgh Abbey, George Macdonald had begun to write novels that proclaimed to all the world the astounding circumstance that, believe it or not, every Scotsman was possessed of a heart—a heart that could be touched, a heart that could be stirred, a heart that could be broken.

Dr. George Macdonald never became extremely popular. For two reasons. He never became popular with Scotsmen because they eyed with grave suspicion his wanton disclosure of the subtle secret that had been preserved inviolate for so long. And he never became popular with the Englishmen because they simply could not believe that his interpretation of Scottish temperament was sound. Scotsmen gasped at his audacity! Englishmen gasped at his incredibility; and, between the two, Dr. Macdonald failed to secure the appreciation that he richly deserved. Later on, Macdonald was followed by a host of writers whose work was no greater than his own, but who rejoiced in a popularity of which he knew nothing. By the time that William Black and Robert Louis Stevenson and S. R. Crockett and Ian Maclaren and James Barrie had begun to write, Scotsmen had become reconciled to the exposure of their infirmity, and Englishmen had begun to suspect that the thing that they had regarded as utterly preposterous was really true.

Scotland Produces A Distinctive Type
In accordance with its invariable procedure, the pendulum swung to the opposite extreme. The men of the Kailyard School—Maclaren, Crockett and the rest—finding the new vein popular, badly overdid it. Not content with adding a spoonful of molasses to the bowl of oatmeal porridge, they soon presented a basin of molasses in which a few grains of meal were floating. The sentimentality became sickly; and, as a consequence, Scotsmen and Englishmen were alike nauseated. But, in the aggregate, good had been done. It became crystal clear that, whatever Scotland had or had not done, she had at least succeeded in developing a distinctive type of character. And, sooner or later, the land that is capable of producing a distinctive type of character may be trusted to express and reflect that character in a distinctive type of literature.

The average Scotsman is a tremendous believer. He believes implicitly in his God and his kirk; he believes unwaveringly in Scotland and her people; and he believes scarcely less absolutely in himself and his family. Because of this robust faith of his, he extols with peculiar pride the outstanding personalities of Scottish history and Scottish literature. To him, Scott is a golden tradition; Burns is a national sentiment; Stevenson is a classic of chivalry; and, in our own time, Barrie has been enthroned as a prince of delicious pathos and resistless whimsicality. Even Scotsmen who possess but a slender intimacy with the works of these men will talk intelligently, discerningly and enthusiastically of their place in the life of their country. In the weaving of a national life, and in the erection of a national literature, this element is vital. Scotsmen would be the last to deny that, in the creation of a stately national tradition, the pride that the lowliest of Scottish citizens feels in the loftiest has gone a very long way towards establishing Scotland's name and fame upon a sure and lasting foundation.

F W Boreham

Image: Scottish flag.

26 November: Boreham on William Cowper

The Herald of the Dawn
William Cowper, whose birthday this is, represents in his own person the resurrection from the dead of English literature. In him, it threw off the grave clothes that had enfolded it for a couple of centuries and rose, transfigured, to live a richer life, radiate a nobler spirit and sing a sweeter song. Goldwin Smith opens his biography of the poet by declaring that he was the most important minstrel between the time of Pope and the time of Wordsworth; whilst Arnold of Rugby used to tell his boys that Cowper was essentially the singer of the dawn. He it was who, after a period of silence that made men fear that English melody was dead, again turned the thoughts of his countrymen to song. Time was when it was the fashion to pooh-pooh the claims of Cowper. "Did he not," it was contemptuously asked, "on several occasions attempt suicide and did he not spend much of his time in a madhouse?" This, of course, is indisputable; but it is also true that almost any young fellow of nervous temperament and frail constitution would lose his reason and seek some means of escape from the horrors of life if his malady were treated as it was customary to treat such cases two hundred years ago.

Let us take a good look at him, this shy, shuddering, shrinking little fellow of six, before rough hands hustle him on to the stage coach and pack him off to a distant boarding-school! He is a quivering little bundle of nerves, slight of figure, feeble of frame, with pale, pinched face and eyes swollen with chronic inflammation. He starts at every sound in the daytime, and throws the bedclothes over his head at night that he may not be scared to death by the ghostly shadows that flit across the wall. His mother, his sole source of comfort, has just died: that is why he is being sent to boarding-school. His father can make nothing of the boy's odd fancies and outlandish ways and thinks this the best way out of his embarrassment.

At the boarding-school he was badgered and bullied and beaten without respite and without mercy, and to the last day of his life he never thought of the horrid place without a shudder. The diffidence and self-contempt born of these conditions never left him. He studied law, and, at the age of 23, was called to the Bar. Nine years later, through the influence of a relative, he received the offer of an easy and highly remunerative position as clerk to the journals of the House of Lords. He accepted the appointment with the utmost gratitude, but then the trouble began. The dread of having to make a formal appearance before a House of Parliament so preyed upon his mind that his health collapsed and he had perforce to abandon the post.

A Study In Light And Shade
Let no one suppose, however, that Cowper was a morbid, much less a miserable man. Even during his occasional fits of insanity he was often overtaken by the merriest moods. Those who were admitted to his more intimate friendship were ceaselessly charmed by his sunny disposition, his whimsical sallies, his unfailing courtesy and his sheer goodness of heart. He revelled in gay, vivacious and light-hearted society: this is the only explanation of the influence upon him of Lady Austen, who inspired "The Task." He was passionately devoted to his garden, taking inordinate pride in the cauliflowers and cucumbers that he was able to bring to his table. Animals and birds had an extraordinary fascination for him, as he also had for them. His tame hares would do at his behest what those timid creatures have seldom been coaxed into doing for anybody else, whilst his pigeons, his goldfinches, his robins, his canaries, his linnet, his jay, his magpie and his starling would at any moment answer to their names and eat from their master's hand.

Cowper represents, therefore, a coy, reserved and somewhat pensive figure in our national gallery. Yet he holds, and holds for all time, a place of singular honour and distinction. A feeble, sensitive and highly-strung physique: a mental wreck: a would-be suicide: a passionate lover of the out-of-doors and of everything that moved there: the author of some of our quaintest humour and of some of our most sacred hymns: his life was, as Byron expressively said, a singular pendulum, swinging ever between a smile and a tear.

The Frail Leader Of A Noble Choir
Yet, for all this, Cowper ushered in a new day. As, in the forest, bird answers to bird, so, as soon as Cowper's note was heard, Burns and Scott replied from Scotland, Moore from Ireland, and then all the choristers awoke. Cowper figures in history as the herald of an age that gave us Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Charles Lamb, Walter Scott and Thomas Moore, James Hogg and Lord Byron, George Crabbe and Percy Shelley, Thomas Campbell and Savage Landor, Leigh Hunt, John Keats, and Robert Burns.

Few poets are more human, more simple, more unaffected, more restful than he: few are more easy to read. His "John Gilpin," his "Alexander Selkirk," his "Boadicea" and "My Mother's Picture" were among the first poems that we learned in our school-books: some of his verses will be among the last that we shall care to remember. Perhaps his most forceful and most pathetic epitaph was written by Mrs. Browning in words as true as they are sorrowful—

O poets, from a maniac's tongue was poured the deathless singing!
Christians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!
O men, this
man in brotherhood your weary paths beguiling,
Groaned inly while he taught
you peace and died while you were smiling!

Under the magic of Cowper's leadership, England passed at one amazing bound from a condition of poetic poverty to a condition of poetic affluence such as no nation had ever before known. The spacious days of great Elizabeth did, it is true, convert the British Isles into a nest of singing birds; but even the inspired bards of that wealthy period lacked a certain indefinable sweetness; and it was reserved for Cowper to supply that aching deficiency by suffusing into our minstrelsy a mellow note that it never afterwards lost.

F W Boreham

Image: William Cowper

Friday, November 24, 2006

25 November: Boreham on John Lockhart

The Perfect Biographer
Today marks the anniversary of the death of the most finished biography of all time. All the circumstances of his birth and early training conspired to prepare John Gibson Lockhart for that enviable supremacy. The son of a Scottish manse, he was gently though strictly nurtured, and was most carefully educated. "He read everything that came his way," Lady Eastlake tells us, "and what he had once devoured he never forgot. His memory was so retentive that, in after-life, he seldom found it necessary to verify a quotation. No livelier boy—merry and mischievous—ever lived; in and out of school his sense of fun and humour, expressed in joke, sarcasm and pencil caricatures, was irrepressible." At college he was extremely popular; carried of all the prizes at classics; and, while yet in his teens, spoke and read German, French, Italian, and Spanish with the utmost ease.

Destined to become the biographer of Sir Walter Scott, it was in May, 1818, that the two men first met. Lockhart was then 24; Scott was 47. They became fast friends at once. The elder took the younger into his heart and into his home, with the result that two years later, Lockhart married Scott's eldest daughter. The two homes—Chiefwood and Abbotsford—being near together, Scott and Lockhart found ample opportunity for intimate intercourse and collaboration.

Two Classic Biographies Contrasted
Which is the stateliest biography in the English language—Boswell's Johnson or Lockhart's Scott? It is difficult to dogmatise. The relationship subsisting between Johnson and Boswell contrasts sharply with that between Scott and Lockhart. The atmosphere of the Johnson-Boswell connection is the atmosphere of Gough Square, of the coffee-house, of the club. The atmosphere of the Scott-Lockhart connection is the atmosphere of the open air—the wooded hills, the flowery valleys and the heather-draped moorland. Boswell is always the parasite, the sycophant, the slave; he fawns, he cringes, he crawls, he ceaselessly plays the jackal to Johnson's lion. In Lockhart's attitude towards Scott, however, there is never the slightest suspicion of obsequiousness or servility, and in Scott's attitude towards Lockhart, there is never the faintest suggestion of superiority or patronage. Each held, through all the years, the unqualified respect and whole-hearted admiration of the other. So far from playing the roles of lion and jackal, these two resembled a pair of handsome and friendly stags, ranging together the rugged uplands, tramping together across the heather in the mist and the rain, and fording together the silver streams and brawling torrents that meandered about the foothills. Lockhart knew Scott infinitely better than Boswell knew Johnson. Macaulay says that Johnson regarded Boswell as a buzzing and pestilential fly, whom he could not brush away. He heartly despised him. But between Scott and Lockhart the harmony was ideal. Lockhart was Scott's honoured relative and trusted confidant. He was to Scott as perfect words to perfect music set.

In one respect only—the quality that makes them both such admirable biographers—do Boswell and Lockhart closely resemble each other. They are neither of them, afraid of giving us all those little insignificances and irrelevances of which we love to hear. A good biographer must be a clever gossip. It is the glory of Boswell that he reveals to us all the grotesque mannerisms, the elephantine oddities and the crude tastes of Dr. Johnson. Macaulay praises him for telling us all about the great man's appetite for veal pie, his thirst for tea, his trick of touching the posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of measuring up scraps of orangepeel, and so on. Similarly, it is the glory of Lockhart that he tells us what Sir Walter ate for breakfast, what he said to his dogs, what he wore when he set off in the rain for Melrose, and how he looked on all sorts of occasions and in all kinds of circumstances. In describing, for example, that very first meeting with Scott in 1818, he gives us every detail concerning the room, the view from the window, the pictures, the chairs, and, particularly, the man. He stresses the restlessness of Scott's fingers, always folding or tearing up scraps of paper, tapping noiselessly on the table, or patting the fine head of one of his dogs. In this graphic and virile manner every sentence of Lockhart's monumental work is drafted.

Truth Made More Fascinating Than Fiction
The biography moves with precision, with dignity, and with deep human sympathy through all the fierce lights and dense shadows of Sir Walter's dramatic and eventful career to that poignant climax that has been the admiration and the despair of all subsequent compilers of personal memoirs. In no novel of Sir Walter's is there an ending of such tragic splendour, of such pure and delicate pathos, and of such vivid and picturesque beauty as Lockhart presents in his closing pages. His portrayal of the death-scene has become a classic—an incomparable example of intense emotion and noble restraint. Everybody knows it:

"Scott then desired to be wheeled through his rooms to the bath chair. We moved him leisurely for an hour or more up and down the hall and the great library. 'I have seen much,' he kept saying, 'but nothing like my ain hoose; give me one turn more!' Next morning he desired to be drawn into the library and placed by the central window... that he might look down upon the Tweed. Here he expressed a wish that I should read to him. I asked from what book. 'Need you ask?' he exclaimed, 'there is but one!' I chose the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel. He listened with mild devotion, and, when I had finished reading of the Father's house and the many mansions, he said: 'That is a great comfort!'"

Within walking distance of Abbotsford, amidst scenes of sylvan loveliness as romantic, as exquisite and as bewitching as anything that even Scotland could produce, Sir Walter's bones were laid to rest amidst the crumbling and ivy-covered ruins of Dryburgh Abbey. And when, twenty-two years later, Lockhart also passed away, it was ordained that he should be borne to the same secluded spot and laid at his great master's feet. It was as both men would have wished it.

F W Boreham

Image: John Gibson Lockhart

Thursday, November 23, 2006

24 November: Boreham on Thanksgiving

Turkey and Cranberry Sauce
This week the people of the United States observe their great national festival. Thanks-giving Day has its roots deeply set in that romantic and colourful enterprise known to history as the Voyage of the Mayflower. More than three hundred years have passed since the pilgrims, 102 in number, turned the prow of their frail craft towards a barren and inhospitable shore. With the religious scruples that primarily actuated those stern emigrants we are not now called to deal. The passage of time, the advancement of learning, and the growth of an ampler charity have long since removed the conditions that they found intolerable. In that respect we can well afford to let bygones be bygones. We may or may not sympathise with the austere conceptions and ideals that drove the pilgrims to quit their native land; it does not matter in the least. We can all look with pride on the audacity of their adventure and on the resolution with which, in the teeth of apparently insuperable obstacles, and in defiance of the most incredible hardships, they laid the foundations of national life on that wild New England shore.

In those days all eyes were being turned to the unknown West. The pilgrims listened with amazement to the tales that were being told of a vast continent across the seas only waiting to be peopled. They recognised the possibilities of the situation. If only they could survive the initial difficulties—the difficulties associated with a hazardous voyage and a precarious settlement on a solitary coast—they might establish a new order of society in which none of the disqualifications, discomforts, and disabilities under which they groaned should find a place. And thus, a century and a half before the Declaration of Independence they founded a civilisation on the principles of the Declaration of Independence; and three centuries before the Atlantic Charter they squarely based their new order on the firm foundation of the four freedoms.

A Voyage That Created a New Civilisation
It was on September 6, 1620, that the Mayflower, after one or two false starts, actually sailed frorn Plymouth. The little vessel, whose seaworthiness was extremely doubtful, lay at the anchorage at which Drake and Hawkins found their ships when, thirty-two years earlier, after finishing their famous game of bowls, they strolled down the quay and set out to meet the Armada. After tossing about for nine weeks at the mercy of the Atlantic waves, the pilgrim fathers landed on the barren coast of Massachusetts. Winter was setting in. The hardships that they endured can best be appreciated when we reflect that half the company died within the first few months in the country. They seldom knew at night where the morning's food was to come from. And, for fear of the Indians, they buried their dead secretly and in silence, cultivating the land above the graves and around them, lest the red men should discover how depleted the settlement was becoming.

In his stirring records of the Spanish conquests in Mexico and Peru, Prescott does his best to throw a glamour of romance over the behaviour of Cortes, Pizarro, and the other adventurers. But as he compares his heroes, impelled to ceaseless bloodshed by their insatiable lust for gold, with the selfless victory of the men of the Mayflower, he confesses that he feels half-ashamed of the dominating figures in his own story.

Festival of Larger Freedom and Closer Friendship
The annual commemoration of such an achievement is calculated to bind by still stronger ties the two great nations immediately concerned. Great Britain is proud of having produced the pilgrims; America is no less proud of finding such sturdy names as theirs on the opening pages of her national annals. As Lord Bryce points out in his history, the friendship between the mother and daughter nations is founded on justice, freedom, humanity, and peace. Of these lofty ideals the pilgrims are the most satisfying representatives. As Wordsworth said of them:

Well worthy to be magnified are they
Who, with sad hearts, of friends and country took
A last farewell, their loved abodes forsook,
And hallowed ground in which their fathers lay,
And all for freedom.

It puts iron into the blood to recall once a year, the behaviour of men who scorned comfort and wealth that they might multiply the world's liberties and build, out of the ruins of Yesterday, a happier Tomorrow.

It was at the end of their first year in the new land that the pilgrims—as many as were left of them—shot a dozen wild turkeys and held their Thanksgiving Feast. The epic grandeur of that inaugural festival consists in the circumstance that, with a retrospect so bitter and a prospect so bleak, the little band had, to all appearances, very little to be thankful for. Whilst the majority of their shipmates had, during the year, dropped into their secret graves, they themselves had contrived to survive the terrible ordeal and to lay the foundations of a new civilisation. It was on this slender cause for gratitude, that they dedicated the day as a day of gratitude and praise. And, forlorn as their situation may seem to us, they kept the feast with overflowing hearts. They looked back on some stirring days. There was the day on which the Mayflower sailed on her return voyage. Any man or woman who so desired could accompany her. Not one would go! There was the day on which they were reduced to combing the sands for something to eat. They found some shellfish, and Edward Winslow led them in giving thanks that they could "suck of the abundance of the seas and feast on treasures hid in the sand." There was the day on which they succeeded in convincing the Indians of their peaceable and friendy motives. Days such as these meant much to the pioneers. They gathered for their Thanksgiving Feast and, long afterwards, President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln separately ordained that the occasion should be observed as a national memorial for ever.

F W Boreham

Image: A low carb., high thanksgiving meal!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

23 November: Boreham on Richard Hakluyt

Seed-Plot of Heroism
It was on November 23, 1616 that there passed away a soft-footed, soft voiced little clergyman who had made history by writing it. Without attracting any notice or making any fuss, Richard Hakluyt did a work that will influence the destinies of men and nations as long as the world endures. It may be questioned whether any one man has done more, directly or indirectly, to put iron into the blood of the British race, than has he. Living in stirring times, the young cleric displayed extraordinary skill in catching their temper, crystallising their genius, perpetuating their splendour and immortalising their fame. England had just awakened with a start to the glory of her destiny. Richard Hakluyt and Walter Raleigh were in their cradles at the same time; and, in the year in which Shakespeare died, the old vicar also slipped away.

The temper of the time was altogether to his taste. The age was moulded to his measure and he was moulded to the measure of the age. A hero-worshipper had been born into an era in which heroes were springing up like mushrooms on a misty morning; and, happily, he stood endowed with exactly that species of talent which enabled him to make the most of so golden an opportunity. As soon as he sat up in his cradle, rubbed his eyes, and took his bearings, he realised that the air was tingling with the spirit of adventure. The centre of imperial gravitation was rapidly shifting from Madrid to London. England was supplanting Spain as mistress of the main. Navigation was the fever of the age. Every young gallant had a constellation of new worlds tucked away among the grey matter of their brain. The high seas were speckled with a snowstorm of white sails. Westward Ho became the universal cry.

Saturated In The Spirit Of A Stirring Time
One after another, there arose men like Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Martin Frobisher, Sir Richard Grenville, and Sir John Hawkins. The astounding exploits of these dauntless seadogs held spellbound the attention of the civilised world; and, since the theatre of their operations was so limitless, each of their achievements led to the wildest speculations as to the nature of the feat that should be next acclaimed. The sensation of one day made men excitedly expectant of a still greater thrill the next. This atmosphere, electric with eventfulness, perfectly suited the temperament of Richard Hakluyt. Never was there so striking an example of the way in which inclination conspires with environment in fitting a man for his life work. As a child, Hakluyt was swept off his feet by the prevailing passion of the time. Somebody had shown him a map of the world—a queer old map, compounded of a minimum of geography and a maximum of guesswork. Crude as it was, however, it fired his fancy and implanted in his mind an insatiable hunger for knowledge. And, in order to appease that restless craving, he made himself master of several languages and even acquired the science of navigation.

He loved, whilst still a boy, loitering about the docks, eavesdropping around groups of sailors just home from distant ports, and picking up uncouth scraps of their quaint jargon. He liked to see their bronzed faces and their tattooed arms and chests. He stood spellbound as he watched a tall ship being lashed to the quay, or, in the course of his walk, met mariners, merchants, nobles, and courtiers, hailing from the strange lands of which he had so often read. The spectacle of a sailor coming ashore with a parrot, a monkey, or some such trophy of his overseas adventures, threw him into transports of uncontrollable excitement. Increasingly fascinated by the stories that he gathered in the course of these waterside peregrinations, he resolved to devote his life to the literature of travel.

The Infectious Quality Of Recorded Valour
Fortune favours the brave. From the moment at which he formed this high resolve, circumstances wove themselves into a web that provided him with excellent material for his prodigious undertaking. History, and especially oceanic history, suddenly became sensational. So, the year after the towering galleons of the Armada had been sent to toss with tangle and with shell, he gave the world the first instalment of his monumental "Voyages." This remarkable work, which was published, volume by volume, during the closing decade of the sixteenth century, contained a most graphic, detailed and exact account of no fewer than 220 separate voyages. It is from end to end a glowing epic of adventure. Moreover, it is the massive foundation on which most of the more modern chronicles have been based.

Hakluyt was no hero; he was just a hero worshipper. Yet, if there were no hero worshippers, there would be no heroes. Does not the paean of the hero worshipper, in chanting the praise of his hero, beget the first potentialities of heroism in all who hear him? And does not the hero worshipper who takes the trouble to transmit to posterity his veneration for his idol pass the spirit of heroism, like a flaming torch, from one generation to another? It is the vital principle out of which the shining web of history is spun. An earnest man conveys the fire that burns within his own breast to the pages on his desk, and, just as fire communicated to paper spreads the conflagration to every thing that the paper touches, so the reader who picks up these inspired pages falls under the influence of their radiance and their warmth. How many have become pilgrims through reading the story of Bunyan's pilgrimage? How many have made the greatest of all confessions through reading the Confessions of St. Augustine? How many apostolic acts have been inspired by the Acts of the Apostles? And, by the same token, how many gallant souls have done a brave day's work for England through perusing the "Voyages" written by the sixteenth century rector?

F W Boreham

Image: Memorial to Richard Hakluyt in the Bristol Cathedral.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

22 November: Boreham on George Moore

A Merchant Prince
It was on November 21, 1876, that George Moore, "the Napoleon of Watling Street," met with his sudden and tragic death. Samuel Smiles, the most eminent biographer of the 19th century, always regarded Moore as the supreme example of all that a British merchant might become and might achieve. He is now numbered with the vast host of forgotten men; yet, in his own modest way, he is as much alive as in the days when his virile personality dominated the life of London.

No tomb in Westminster Abbey has been more honoured during the past century than the tomb of David Livingstone, yet how many of the visitors who bow their heads beside it, know that the famous black slab, with its exquisite inscription, was the gift of George Moore, who would, had he been allowed, have met all the expenses of the explorer's funeral? Tourists who file past the paintings at the Royal Academy are united in admiring Cope's magnificent representation of "The Council," portraying members of the hanging committee deliberating on the pictures submitted. But who gives a thought to the circumstance that it was George Moore who bought the celebrated canvas and presented it to the Academy? Scattered about Great Britain there are hospitals, schools, lifeboats, and institutions of all kinds that, originally founded by Moore, or as grateful tributes to his memory, still exercise their beneficent ministry, although no longer associated with his name. This is exactly as he would have wished it.

Greatness Linked With Greatness
Although, by sheer force of character, Moore made himself one of the most prosperous merchants in the City of London, which tried hard to invest him with a Sheriff's robes, would gladly have made him Lord Mayor, and would have delighted in having him as its representative in Parliament, his massive personality is associated most closely, not with the city, but with the beautiful Lake Country of the North. Here he was born; here he served his apprenticeship; and here, ensconced in one of the most palatial homes in Cumberland, he spent his later years.

A clever wrestler, and keen on every sport, his life-long passion was hunting. As a boy he knew John Peel, and, indeed, boarded with Nanny Graves, the mother of the writer of the famous song. Peel's pack, Moore used to say, was the most amazing collection of mongrels in the country, but he loved each dog as a friend and knew how to get the best from him.
Moore possessed a genius for linking his life with the lives of illustrious people. In his youth, the shadows of John Peel, Sir Walter Scott, and John Milton fell athwart his path; and, in the full flood of his career, he enjoyed intimate touch with living greatness. W. E. Gladstone, Charles Dickens, Cardinal Manning, and Lord Shaftesbury were among his most ardent admirers, sometimes soliciting his assistance and sometimes helping him in the countless causes that he so enthusiastically espoused.

Modesty Companion Of Munificence
He was, on six separate occasions, entreated to stand for Parliament. The citizens of the metropolis assured him that, beneath whichever party banner he cared to stand, they would secure him against opposition. But, to each such overture, he shook his huge head with a smile. A political life held no attractions for him. He liked to serve where he was most wanted. When, during the siege of Paris, he heard that the citizens were living on rats, mice, and such revolting fare, he instantly organised relief, vowed that he would be first into the French capital with food, and was as good as his word.

His princely munificence amazed everybody, himself included. Although he appeared to be spending all his time and thought and strength in rushing about the country serving all sorts of worthy but necessitous causes, his business prospered beyond all his dreams. He gave money in thousands and revelled in doing it. With a hearty laugh he used to say that he had no idea where it all came from, but, since it insisted on coming, he might as well make the most of it. It was in 1876 that, at the age of 70, a street accident brought his useful life to an abrupt close. A handsome man, with honest brown eyes and a fine shock of curly hair, everybody enjoyed his companionship. He packed a life into every moment and left the world immensely the better for his passage through it.

F W Boreham

21 November: Boreham on James Hogg

The Ettrick Shepherd
If ever a clodhopper found his way into the classics, it was James Hogg, the anniversary of whose death we mark today. He was about as rough a diamond as one need wish to see. Indeed, if the kindly but penetrating eyes of Sir Walter Scott had not detected his genuine worth, nobody would have suspected the lowland cowherd of being a diamond at all.

The story of his debut makes interesting reading. Having convinced himself that, under an uncouth and repulsive exterior, Hogg possessed real genius, Scott, who had a flair for discovering exceptional gifts in unlikely places, invited him to his home. And then, the fun began.

The lady of the house, being at the time in a delicate state of health, was reclining on a sofa. Hogg accordingly stretched himself on another sofa on the opposite side of the room. Making himself very much at home, he laughed loudly, ate heartily, and imbibed freely. As the liquor operated, he became more and more familiar, until, to everybody's astonishment, he was boisterously addressing his distinguished host and hostess, not only by their Christian names, but by their pet names and nicknames.

Yet, in spite of all Hogg's coarseness and crudity, Scott became devotedly attached to him. He loved his transparent simplicity, his native originality, his irresistible quaintness. "His thousand little touches of absurdity afforded me more enjoyment," Scott would say, "than the best comedy that ever put the pit in a roar." And he retained his deep affection for his strange friend to the very end.

The Birth Of A Noble Ambition
The annals of literature if they prove anything prove that the instincts of poesy may subsist side by side with the most pitiful illiteracy. Slaves and savages have often excelled as minstrels. Whilst watching his cows on the hillside, young Hogg taught himself to write—after a fashion—and then proceeded to compose simple stanzas descriptive of the beauties spread so plentifully about him.

The first thrill of his literary career came to him when he discovered that these artless verses could bring tears to the blue eyes of a pretty little ewe-milker with whom he was sometimes associated in his pastoral vigil. She was, he says, a rosy-checked maiden whose duty it was to herd a flock of newly-weaned lambs. She had no dog; he had an excellent one; and so they guarded their charges co-operatively. She would sit and sew: he—sprawling on the grass with his head pillowed in her lap—would read or recite his verses; and it was the sympathetic vibration awakened in the breast of this unsophisticated listener that first inspired Hogg with the hope that he was born to be a poet.

The thought soon grew into an uncontrollable obsession; it swept him off his feet; it filled him with frantic excitement and the wildest ecstasy. Hogg was 26 when Burns died. He was deeply moved by the universal grief amidst which the bard was committed to his grave. It flashed upon his mind that the dead singer should have a successor. Upon whose shoulders should the mantle fall? Why not upon his? His heart stood still and he caught his breath at the very thought of such a thing; but it became a beckoning ideal towards which he struggled during all the years that followed.

A Bright Close To A Cloudy Day
The personal pilgrimage of the Ettrick Shepherd derives both its comedy and its tragedy from the desperate financial straits in which he chronically floundered. He was one of those superlative unfortunates who, finding it extremely difficult to make money, display extraordinary facility in losing it as soon as it comes. His embarrassments were a ceaseless anxiety to Sir Walter Scott. When Scott himself was wealthy, he helped Hogg liberally and obtained for him the patronage and assistance of titled and influential friends. And when his own affairs become whelmed in uttermost disaster, the poverty of Hogg worried him almost as much as the devastating catastrophe that, like an avalanche, had swooped down upon himself.

Nothing that Hogg touched seemed to prosper. He writes a treatise on the diseases of sheep. To his unbounded delight he received £300 for it. He at once invests it in a flock of sheep and loses the lot! He writes "The Queen's Wake," which promises £200; but, just as he is looking for the cheque, the publisher files a petition in bankruptcy. This sort of thing dogged all his days, or almost all of them. For, happily, there came a brighter phase towards the end.

At the age of 50 he married a woman who was very comfortably off, and, his merit, having by this time been recognised, he had no difficulty in securing excellent terms from some of the best publishing houses. In 1831 he visited London and was so feted and banqueted that he began to wonder if the poet praised was really himself. Lockhart and Carlyle feared that the cataract of eulogy would turn his head. Even his wife grew nervous and begged him to come home. "Leave the Londoners something to guess at," she wrote. On his return to Scotland a public dinner was tendered to him at Pechles. He simply revelled in this flurry of fame.

But he deserved it. The handsome monument that stands beside St. Mary's Loch, and the memorial in Ettrick church yard, celebrate the renown of one who, for sweetness, naturalness and tuneful ease, has never been surpassed. Some of his lyrics are as nearly perfect as anything in any language. He exercised, as Wordsworth finely said, "a mighty minstrelsy," and he has bequeathed to posterity a record of noble achievement that is calculated to shame into activity those who, with more lavish endowments and ampler opportunities, nevertheless make no serious attempt to enrich the minds and hearts of their fellows.

F W Boreham

Image: James Hogg