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THE GENTLE SHEPHERD.
A RETROSPECTIVE RHAPSODY.
I Love Scotland. There is no sin either in the love or the confession. And if there be, it has intertwined itself too closely among all my cherished affections to be now repented of now that my heart has grown around and moulded itself, like a matrix, precisely to the shape of my early associations. As long ago as I can well remember, the name of Scotland, heard in any connection, roused my interest in a moment. The sight of an emigrant Scot excited my deepest sympathy, whom I never doubted some unkind fortune had compelled to forsake his dear native Highlands and exchange his national tartan for the commonplace costumes of the rest of the world; and I pitied the forlorn wanderer from the bottom of my heart.
I could then think of no earthly reason why a true-born son of Scotland should ever willingly leave his native land, and such a land ! I pitied even the national thistle that struggled to live by the wayside in spite the murderous assaults of its enemies, as if it must grow sickly and lonesome elsewhere than on the border of a Scottish loch, or on the broadside of some overshadowing Ben Nevis or Lomond !
My earliest historical delights were the struggles of the Scottish lairds for the deliverance of the castles of their fathers. And it needed not the patriotic song of Burns to fire my young heart with sympathy for the “ Scots wham Bruce sae aften led."
Need you wonder, then, that it was amongst my most ardent wishes and firmest resolves, if Providence should ever so favor me, (before I left this earth to revisit it no more,) to traverse the land of my young admiration,
Oh, it was to lie all day on some far-seeing elevation—to watch the eagle wheeling in vast circles about the crag that held his eyrie and his eaglets-or to follow the lark from the treetops below, up, up, till she floated like a speck in the blue air-ocean above like a distant and almost invisible island, with the echoes of the hamlet and the watch-dog baying on the hill blending musically in the distance--till the gloamin' stole over the vale and flung her mantle around the broad, upheaving shoulders of the mountain. Then to follow some stalwart Donald, ó bonneted, kilted and a'' to his shieling, and on a bed of fresh heather and under a real plaid to sleep such a sleep as must add ten years to the life, with elysian dreams gratis till the morning. But all this has proved to be amongst the thousand other devout intentions I then had, which addled before they could be brooded and hatched into the vitality of an accomplishment
I have never yet placed my foot upon the outermost points of Scotia, nor heard one ripple of her lochs.
And I am old too now, and cannot hope to step so far out of that gradually contracting circuit in which I am verging nearer and nearer to the resting-place where the human foot must stop its restless wanderings forever.
But though it is not for me ever to visit in propria persona this noblest of lands, there is one delight left me which becomes the more precious as my youthful anticipations withdraw farther and farther into the region of impossibilities. If I cannot see the land of the Covenanters, I can enjoy her history and admire her poets. I do love them with a peculiar love. The very uncouthness of her dialect hath charms for me—an expressiveness the pure and polished English cannot aspire to. The Scottish poets! Ramsay, Cunningham, Burns, North and Ettrick Shepherd ! Ah, these are names precious to me indeed! Who can sing like the "Swan o' the Nith ?” Who paint nature like Ramsay of the Gentle Shepherd ? Whose • Recreations' like Christopher North ?
“From Maiden-kirk to Johnnie Groat's."
I had often and often imagined the scenery upon my whole intended peregrination-highland and lowland, loch and lin, crag and glen, bank and brae, but it would not do. I wanted to stand in the flesh, upon the heather hillsides, and verify every imagined steep and dell by ocular demonstration.
Now I am no dissecting, analyzing critic, letting out the soul of poetry by keeking into the joints of its construction. Do not think of
sitting, staid, erect, suspicious, with great circular spectacles of a hundred magnifying power, glowering at the last outgushing of the poetical heart in never pleased fastidiousness, faughing at every least rebellion of simple Nature against the laws of the unities. I read and write, not to find and expose faults with microscopic vigilance, and set the world all agog for my specimen of what a poem should be. I remember something about glass houses. No, I read for the enjoyment, in all the gentleness of clemency towards him who will thus let me look into his heart. Buried within the stout, yet well-stuffed arms of my elbowchair, and letting every limb choose its own easiest position without thought or oversight from me—no longer in the body, but all mind and heart; I love to go arm in arm with Rob or Allan just where he pleases to lead, and, borrowing his eyes and catching every syllable of his tongue and speaking face, to see what he sees, admire what he admires, and believe what he believes, so long as his spell is on me. Dear reader, there's pleasure, dreamy bliss in such communings. And if your guide but lead you to auld Scotland, and wander with you around her castle ruins, and, grander still, among her scenic sublimities, long will be the wandering stroll, ere the sense of some overpressed, prickling limb will prickle sharp enough to remind you
that you are in the flesh by the chimney nook, and not a painless gossamer spirit, emancipated from the laws of gravitation; that is, if your heart is like mine. And I hope it is for the pleasure it may give you by creating scenes the eye hath never seen, and transport
ng you over any distance of time or space, it matters not which-crossing buoyantly and safely over the fairy arches which a few rich, suggestive words can fling across the chasm that separates the present from the absent.
Have you ever so read, so enjoyed Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd ? I have. I have just laid it down-an old edition, with its quaint engravings, songs, music and all--after, perhaps, the twentieth perusal, more delighted than ever. And now, although you may be slily laughing at me for my simplicity, I don't care--I cannot belp being just as garrulous in my admiration, and as earnest in pointing
out to you its beauties, (as I have threatened to do at every reading,) as if you knew nothing at all about them.
Christopher North says of this work of Ramsay, “ Theocritus was a pleasant pastoral, and Sicilia sees him among the stars. But all his dear idylls together are not equal in worth to the single Gentle Shepherd.” And honest Allan deserves such commendation from his countryman. The characters are honest, artless, truthtful. Their emotions are natural, generous and comely. And yet they are not such perfect beings as to have no originals in this fallen world. There is, among the youthful “ dramatis personæ,” just the bashful coyness and arch coquettishness, and just the proud sensitiveness and peeping jealousy, which has always been displayed in every retired hamlet in Scotland and everywhere else, at
“ The age when little loves Flighted around young hearts like cooing doves." The older personages possess just the right proportions of staidness and parental sympathy, and devout patriotism. Over all is manifest such a natural reverence for God and his truth, and scrupulous observance of the laws of virtue, as I always expect to see in a true picture of Scottish rural life. And then they discourse so naturally, and all in their own sweet Gaelic dialect, that I am loth to have them done.
But it is not my purpose to inflict upon my indulgent reader an eulogium, in the general, upon what he may as yet know nothing of; nor to give a dry critical analysis of the plot, in order to show that it violates none of the laws of the drama. But I do wish to tell you just a tantalizing outline of its simple tale of shepherd love, that you may be enticed to procure the little work, if it do not already grace the shelves of your library.
The scene is laid among the glens, and not far from Edinburgh. The time is just after the restoration of Charles II. One of the Scottish nobility, devoutly attached to the royal cause, had been compelled to flee for safety to the Continent during the troublous times of the Commonwealth. He had but a single child-an infant son, too young to remember the baronial halls of his self-exiled father, and a mother he was never to know, for she was below “ the church-yard mold.” The fleeing laird, unknowing the upshot of the
then distracted times, and whether a loyal noble's descendant may not be in jeopardy of his life, commits his motherless heir to the nurture of one of his aged and trusty shepherds, to be brought up, and to pass as the adopted son of honest Symon. The character of his protege’s rank is to be kept a sacred secret, and if needful be buried with himself.
Years pass away, and the laird grows up, a hearty, free and blithesome shepherd, known to himself and others only as simple Patie, the adopted son of the old cottager. He tends his flock along the hills with his comra de, good Roger, and mingles in the sports upon the green at the day-close, careless of kings and lords, joyous as his own lambkins, and ignorant of his real parentage as his playmates.
But the mischievous bow-and-arrow urchin, who shoots at the heart of gentle and simple alike, has a bolt in his quiver for the young Patie; and it is soon twanged deep into his breast.
At the next cottage in the glen live two lasses—the daughter and adopted niece of the old couple, but sisters in heart, and rivals in sweetness, just as the rose rivals the violet. Each seemed the more sweet and lovely in the absence of the other. But when both were together in “the bleachfield,” or strolling, hand in hand, along the “flowery holm,” none knew which to crown as the superior.
Jenny, the daughter, was innocent and skipping as the fawn on the distant hillside ; but Meg, the niece, sweet Meg, was gentle and graceful as the silvery birk that bends so tenderly and attentively to the whispered troubles of the evening zephyrs with every leaf in a flutter of sympathy. Jenny was gladsome as the lark, soaring and singing away into the unclouded list, yet never losing sight of her grassy nest and unfledged younglings in the bunch of heather. Meg, as gladsome, was more like the seagle on the high cliffs, where but the deadened echo of the moving scenes below comes up to his blue ether heights. Jenny's spirit was like the “trotting burnie,” carelessly frolicking along to the chime of its own “ sing and din,” where the ripple of the springing minnow, or the dash of the bounding deer, are equally lost in a moment. The heart of the gentle Meg was deep and pure and transparent, like the placid, pebbled pool. No strong emotion had yet stirred its quiet depths, but it could be agitated to the bottom.
The long summer days, bright sun-glints through the trees, and moon-bright evenings on the green, had ripened the hearts of these bonny lassies. And, as is most natural and proper, the gentle shepherd and his friend Roger fall in love with Meggy and Jenny. While the father is skulking in foreign parts, the flame is burning brighter and inextinguishable between his happy son and Meg, the foundling niece of Habbie's How.
As the ancient régime is now restored, and gentility again lifts its head from concealment in his native land, the absent laird seizes the glad moment to leave his privacy, revisit his hereditary estates, and, if it may be, spend his remaining years in the halls of his fathers. That he may test for himself the fidelity of his old cottager, to whom he had committed his infant heir, he dons the guise of a “spae-man” or fortune-teller, and joins a feast holden in the glen in joy for the news of his expected return. The secret has been most safely kept, but not so safely, he finds and might have known, the heart of the young shepherd laird.
The old knight reveals himself, and in the true spirit of aristocracy be forbids, gently indeed, the prospective alliance. He determines to send his son on a continenal tour, as Patie says, “to learn to dance, and twa or three ither monkey tricks;" but really with the hope of erasing Meg from his thoughts, as the father believes in his old, hard heart will be easily done.
The young lovers meet" at the sad, the trysting hour," and in the frankness and tenderness of nature's heart, plight their vows never to be another's, and to wait some favorable, relenting moment when they can be one.
But it's a long night that is not followed by the morning, and just as
“The scant approaching light Stands equal 'twixt the morning and the night," a poor hind, frightened half to death by fancied ghosts and witches, rushes to the laird for vengeance upon the old hag that has so scared him. With indulgent heart his honor summons the parties to appear immediately before him, that this “hobbleshew” may be unravelled, and every injury redressed. All the simple cottagers, old and young, are of course called together, or invited to see their old master, and help unfold the perplexities of the affrighted Bawldie. While the examination is progress
THE FLIGHT OF TIME.
ing, the countenance of the gentle Meg awakens strange remembrances within him.
shreds, and farewell words and kisses are changed to bridal.
"The girl brings all his sister to his mind"
a sister who, like his own wife, died in youthful womanhood, and left a widowed husband like himself. The resemblance arouses his inquiries, but the old shepherd can give but a blind account of her birth. He found her,
"Ae clear morn of May, close by the lee side of his door,
All sweet and clean, and carefully bapt round
Kind, patient reader, if any have followed me through this brief and barren analysis, you have here the framework, the string on which are strung as rich, as genuine a chaplet of pearls and sparkling beauties as ever glittered on the brow of pastoral poet. We would hang it on the brows of the gifted Allan and invite all to admire.
The Gentle Shepherd lets one deeply into the untutored workings of the humble heartso much the better because untutored in all its artless affections. I am myself almost bewitched by the frank and loving Meg, and can hardly help envying the young laird his monopoly of her noble, confiding heart. He who could so portray Nature in her untrammelled moods, deserves the title his cotemporaries bestowed upon him of “manners-painting" Ramsay. I hope you have already and often admired and loved his pictures with a delight as pleasant as my own. If not, there is one mine yet unexplored by you, far richer in its wealth than any placer' in the distant and earthy Sacramento.
She had ever passed as his adopted orphan niece. Old Mause, the whilom witch, now steps forward, and unravels the mystery.
Meg is indeed of gentle blood. Early remembrances are not at fault. shepherdess is truly the child of the old laird's sister. Her faithful nurse had snatched her, in infant slumbers, from those who had decreed her death for her rich estates, and dropped her at the honest cotter's door.
Patie's heart, you may well believe, is relieved of a load of grief, that his Meg may still and now be his; and continental tours are forgotten, vows of perpetual celibacy are torn into
THE FLIGHT OF TIME.
When standing in the halls of mirth,