Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

«« Pass on your way," rejoined the figure, the harsh tones of his voice still more exalted by passion. “I want not your guidance---I want not your lodging—it is five years since my head was under a human roof, and I trust it was for the last time. '',

After a desperate refusal on the part of the misanthropical dwarf to hold any communication with the hunters, they proceed on their journey to Hobbie's house, of Heughfoot, where they are courteously received by his grandmother, his sisters, and Grace Armstrong, a fair cousin, with whom the doughty yeoman is described to be enamoured. The domestic scene is painted with the knowledge of the language and manners of that class of society, which give interest to the picture of Dandie Dinmont and his family, in

Guy Mannering.' But we do not think it equal to the more simple sketch contained in the earlier novel. This must frequently be the case, when an author, in repeated efforts, brings before us characters of the same genus. He is, as it were, compelled to dwell upon the specific differences and distinctions instead of the general characteristics, or, in other words, rather to show wherein Blobbie Elliot differs from Dandie Dinmont, than to describe the former as he really was.

The mysterious dwarf, with speed almost supernatural, builds himself a house of stones and turf, encloses it with a rude wall, within which he cultivates a patch of garden ground, and all this he accomplishes by the assistance of chance passengers who occasiorally stopped to aid him in a task which seemed so unfitted for a being of his distorted shape. Against this whole tale we were tempted to state the objection of utter improbability. We are given however to understand that such an individual, so misused by nature in his birth, did actually, within these twenty years, appear in a lone valley in the moors of Tweedale, and so build a mansion without any assistance but that of passengers as aforesaid, and said house só constructed did so inhabit. The singular circumstances of his hideous appearance, of the apparent ease with which he constructed his place of abode, of the total ignorance of all the vicinity respecting his birth or history, excited, in the minds of the common people, a superstitious terror not inferior to that which the romance describes the appearance of the Black Dwarf to have spread through Liddesdale. The real recluse possessed intelligence and information beyond his apparent condition, which the neighbours, in their simplicity, were sometimes disposed to think preternatural. He once resided (and perhaps still lives) in the vale formed by the Manor-water which falls into the Tweed near Peebles, a glen long honoured by the residence of the late vencrable Professor Ferguson.

The Black Dwarf is consulted (from an opinion of his super

2

fill up

natural skill) by many in his vicinity, which gives opportunity to the author to introduce us to his dramatis personæ :- these are Willie of Westburnflat, a thorough-paced border robber, who is perhaps placed somewhat too late in the story, and Miss Isabella Vere, daughter of the Laird of Ellieslaw, bctwixt whom and Earnscliff a mutual attachment subsists. But, as is usual in such cases, her father, who belonged to the Jacobite party in politics, and was deeply concerned in their intrigues, was hostile to the match. This unaccommodating sire had resolved to confer the hand of Miss Vere upon Sir Frederick Langley, an English baronet, of his own political creed, and whom he wished to bind yet more closely to his interest. These, with a confidante cousin of no importance, and a gay cavalier called Mareschal, who embarks in his kinsman Ellieslaw's plots with as much lively heedlessness as could be desired; and finally, a grave steward called Ratcliffe, who receives and accounts to Mr. Vere for the rents of some extensive English estates, which had belonged, as was supposed, to his deceased wife,

the dramatis persone. This list of personages is not nume. rous, yet the tale is far from corresponding in simplicity. On the contrary, it abounds with plots, clopements, ravishments, and rescues, and all the violent events which are so common in romance, and of such rare occurrence in real life.

Willie of Westburnflat, the robber aforesaid, opens the campaign by burning the house of our honest friend Hobbie Elliot. The gathering of the borderers for redress and vengeance, their pursuit of the freebooter, and the siege of his tower, are all told with the spirit which shows a mind accustomed to the contemplation of such scenes. The robber, for his ransom, offers to Jeliver up his fair prisoner, who proves to be, not Grace Armstrong, but Miss Vere, whom her father, finding his plans on her freedom of choice likely to be deranged by the interference of the steward Ratcliffe, who scems to possess a mysterious authority over the conduct of his patron, had procured to be carried off by this free. booter, in order to place her the more absolutely at his paternal disposal. She is restored to the Castle of Ellieslaw by her lover Earnscliff, who (of course) had been foremost in her rescue. This ought not to be slurred over, being one of the few attempts which the poor gentleman makes to kill a giant, or otherwise to distinguish himself during the volume. In the meanwhile, the influence of the Black Dwarf with the robber obtains the freedom of Grace Armstrong, and the Solitary contrives also to throw in the way of her betrothed husband a purse of gold, sufficient to reimburse all his losses.

Ellieslaw, during these proceedings, is arranging everything for a rising of the Jacobites, in order to cover the invasion which the

[ocr errors]

French were at that time meditating in behalf of the Chevalier St. George. He is suddenly menaced by the threatened desertion of his proposed son-in-law, Sir Frederick Langley, who becomes jealous of Mr. Vere's talents in maneuvring, and suspicious that he mtends to cheat him of his intended bride ; Vere takes advantage of this circumstance to persuade his daughter that his life and fortunes are at the mercy of this dubious confederate, and can only be saved by her consenting to an immediate union! She is rescued from the fate to which he had destined her, by the sudden appearance of the Black Dwarf, who proves to be the kinsman of Miss Vere's mother, to whom he had been fondly attached. A series of misfortunes, backed by the artifices of Vcre, liad driven him in a fit of gloomy misanthropy to renounce the world. Hobbie Elliot appears with an armed body to support his benefactor-the failure of the French expedition is made known--the baffled conspirators disperse-Vere escapes abroad, but leaves his daughter full authority to follow her own inclinations—the Solitary seeks some more distant and unknown cell, and Earnscliff and Hobbie marry the objects of their affection, and are happily settled for life.

Such is the brief abstract of a tale of which the narrative is unusually artificial. Neither hero nor heroine excites interest of any sort, being just that sort of pattern people whom nobody cares a farthing about. The explanation of ihe dwarf's realcircumstances and character, too long delayed from an obvious wish to protract the mystery, is at length huddled up so hastily that, for our parts, we cannot say we are able to comprehend more of the motives of this principal personage than that he was a mad man, and acted like one--an easy and summary mode of settling all difficulties. As for the hurry and military bustle of the conclusion, it is only worthy of the farce of the Miller and his Men, or any other modern melo-drama, ending with a front crowded with soldiers and sceneshifters, and a back scene in a state of consagration.

We have dcalt with this tale very much according to the clown's argument in favour of Master Froth-Look upon his face, I will be sworn on a book that his face is the worst part about him, and if his face be the worst part about him, how could Master Froth do the constable's wife any harm ? Even so we will take our oaths that the narrative is the worst part of the Black Dwarf, and that if the reader can tolerate it upon thesketch we have given him, he will find the work itself contains passages both of natural pathos and fantastic terror, not unworthy of the author of the scene of Stanie's burial, in the Antiquary, or the wild tone assumed in the character of Meg Merrilies.

The story which occupies the next three volumes is of much deeper interest, both as a talc and from its connexion with histori

cal facts and personages. It is entitled · Old Mortality,' but should have been called the Tale of Old Mortality, for the personage so named is only quoted as the authority for the incidents. The story is thus given in the introduction :

According to the belief of most people, he was a native of either the county of Dumfries or Galloway, and lineally descended from some of those champions of the Covenant, whose deeds and sufferings were his favourite theme. He is said to have beld, at one period of his life, a small moorland farm ; but, whether from pecuniary losses, or domestic misfortune, he bad long renounced that and every other gainful calling. In the language of Scripture, be left his house, his home, and his kindred, and wandered about until the day of his deatb, a period, it is said, of nearly thirty years.

*" During this long pilgrimage, the pious enthusiast regulated his circuit so as annually to visit the graves of the unfortunate Covenanters who suffered by the sword, or by the executioner, during the reigns of the two last monarchs of the Stuart line. These are most numerous in the westem districts of Ayr, Galloway, and Dumfries ; but they are also to be found in other parts of Sco!land, wherever the fugitives had fought, or fallen, or suffered by military or civil execution. Their tombs are often apart from all human babitation, in the remote moors and wilds to which the wanderers had ned for concealment. But wherever they existed, Old Mortality was sure to visit them when bis annual round brought them witbin his reach. In the most lonely recesses of the mountains, the moor-fowl shooter has been often surprised to find him busied in cleaning the moss from the gray stones, renewing with his chisel the half-defaced foscriptions, and repairing the embleras of death with wbich these simple monuments are usually adorned. Motives of the most sincere, though fanciiul devotion, induced the old man lo dedicate so many years of existence to perform this tribute to the memory of the deceased warriors of the church. He considered himself as fulfilling a sacred duty, while renewing to the eyes of poste. rity the decaying emblems of the zcal and sufferings of their forefathers, and thereby trimming, as it were, the beacon-light, which was to wami future generations to defend their religion even unto blood.

"" in all his wanderings, the old pilgrim never seemed to need, or was known to accept, pecuniary assistance. It is true his wants were very few, for wherever he went, be found ready quarters in the house of some Cameronian of his own sect, or of some oiber religious person. The hospitality which was reverentially paid to him be always acknowledged, by repairing the gravestones (it

' there existed any) belonging to the family or ancestors of his bost. As the wanderer was usually to be seen bent on this pious task within the precincts of some country church-yard, or reclined on the solitary tombstone among the heath, disturbing the plover and the black cock with the clink of his chisel and mallet, with his old white pony grazing by his side, he acquired, from his converse among the dead, the popular appellation of Old Mortality." ?- vol. ii. pp. 15-18.

We believe we can add a local habitation and a name to the accounts given of this remarkable old man. His name was Robert Patterson, and in the earlier part of his life he lived in the parish of Closeburn, in Dumfriesshire, where he was distinguished for depth of piety and devotional feeling. Whether domestic af. fliction, or some other cause, induced him to adopt the wandering course of life described in the tale which bears his name, we have not been informed: but he continued it for many years, and about fifteen years since closed his weary pilgrimage in the manner described in the introduction, being found on the highway, near Lockerby, in Dumfriesshire, exhausted and just expiring. The old pony, the companion of his wanderings, was found standing by the side of his master.'. This remarkable personage is mentioned in a note upon Swift's Memoirs of Captain John Creighton, in Mr. Scott's edition of that author.

The tale, as may be supposed from the title thus explained, is laid during the period of the persecution of the Presbyterians in Scotland, in the reign of Charles II. The scene opens with a description of a popular assembly of the period, brought together for the purpose of mustering the military vassals of the crown, and afterwards shooting at the popinjay, a custom, we believe, which is still kept up in Ayrshire, and we may add in several parts of the continent. The reluctance of the Presbyterians to appear at these musters gives rise to a ludicrous incident. Lady Margaret Bel. lenden, a personage of great dignity and cavalierism, is, by the recusancy of her ploughmen to bear arms, compelled to fill up her feudal ranks by the admission of a half-witted boy entitled Goose Gibbie, who, arrayed in the panoply of a man-at-arms of the day, is led forth under the banners of her valiant butler, John Gudyill. But mark the consequences.

• No sooner had the horses struck a canter than Gibbie's jack-boots, which the poor boy's legs were incapable of steadying, began to play alternately against the horse's flanks, and being armed with long-rowelled spurs, overcame the patience of the animal, which bounced and plunged, while poor Gibbie's entreaties for aid never reached the ears of the too heedless butler, being drowned partly in the concave of the steel cap in which bis head was immersed, and partly in the martial tune of the Gallant Græmes, which Mr. Gudyill whistled with all his power of lungs.

• The upshot was, that the steed speedily took the matter into his own bands, and having gambolled hither and thither to the great amusement of all the spectators, set off at full speed towards the huge family-coach already described. Gibbie's pike, escaping from its sling, had fallen to a level direction across his hands, which, I grieve to say, were seeking dishonourable safety in as strong a grasp of the mane as their muscles could manage. His casque, too, had slipped completely

VOL. XVI. NO. XXX11.

« AnteriorContinuar »