The adventures of Frank Osbaldistone and his time in Scotland with the famous outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor during the time of the 1715 Jacobite Rising.
Classics Illustrated tells this wonderful tale in colorful comic strip form, offering an excellent introduction for younger readers. This edition also includes a biography of Sir Walter Scott, theme discussions and study questions, which can be used both in the classroom or at home to further engage the reader in the story.
The Classics Illustrated comic book series began life in 1941 with its first issue, Alexandre Dumas’ "The Three Musketeers", and has since included over 200 classic tales released around the world. This new edition is specifically tailored to engage and educate young readers with some of the greatest works ever written, while still thrilling older readers who have loving memories of this series of old. Each book contains dedicated theme discussions and study questions to further develop the reader’s understanding and enjoyment of the work at hand.
About the Author
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is universally acclaimed as one of the world's greatest writers who was of seminal importance in the development of the historical novel. Stuart Kelly is the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday and a freelance journalist and writer. He is the author of Scott-Land: The Man Who Invented a Nation (Polygon).
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is universally acclaimed as one of the world's greatest writers who was of seminal importance in the development of the historical novel. Stuart Kelly is the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday and a freelance journalist and writer. He is the author of Scott-Land: The Man Who Invented a Nation (Polygon).
RUDOLPH PALAIS worked in the comics field from the late 1930s to 1969. He and his brother Walter worked for several New York publishers. He then joined the Harry "A" Chesler shop in 1939. He worked briefly for National/DC on 'Doctor Mid-Nite', for Holyoke on 'Catman', for Quality Comics on 'Blackhawk', 'Doll Man' and 'Phantom Lady', and for Charles Biro on the original 'Daredevil'. In the early 1940s he drew the fifth through seventh issue of the 'Rangers of Freedom' comic, about a group of marines.
Read an Excerpt
“My foot is on my native heath, and my name is MacGregor!” resounded across the Thanksgiving appetizers. What could make my host, a Missouri native and a ranch man, later a hotelier and an episcopal priest in Laramie, Wyoming, go on to declare, “Wonderful stuff! Wonderful stuff!”? What made my Northern Irish grandmother routinely assert our family relation to the Highland hero—to be as often contradicted by my father as we headed home after our weekly visit? In my father’s joking perspective, Rob Roy MacGregor was no hero either in history or in the Walter Scott novel, but a notorious cattle thief. Of course no one, he laughed, ever thought they were descended from a nobody. Both my Laramie friend and my grandmother get their enthusiasm from an idea of Rob Roy that brings certainty in identity, and a heritage rooted in place. But none remember, as my father might have pointed out, that Rob Roy is not the hero of the 1818 novel that bears his name. Indeed, his enthusiastically quoted declaration, “My foot is on my native heath, and my name is MacGregor!” (page 366) arises in a moment of frustration over the deadly results of personal and political conviction in a contested landscape. That was a lesson for our times in 1960s Northern Ireland.
How, then, did the book come to be titled Rob Roy? It was the publisher’s choice. Scott was on his sixth novel. An astute businessman, he was, in his gentlemanly way, playing his publishers one against another. Recently, he had turned to the house of Blackwood, annoyed with his longtime publisher Archibald Constable; now, irritated with Blackwood’s, the period’s most successful novelist tempted Constable toward a better deal. When the publisher visited him amidst the construction of his new house—which hinted broadly at the author’s rising star—Scott teased with the plot to come. Constable lobbied that the title should center the person he thought, at this early stage, to be the hero: Rob Roy. “Nay, never let me have to write up to a name,” Scott replied. “You well know I have generally adopted a title that told nothing.” Still, with Constable about to settle on generous terms, the title stuck. So from May 5, 1817, with the novel yet to write, it would be Rob Roy.*
Yet this title, after all, reveals little. When Constable’s partner read the finished novel in December 1817, he worried: “Rob . . . figures far less on the stage than the title leads the reader to expect.”* As is typical of Scott, whose first novel, Waverley, led with an introduction declaring one by one the many things it was not about, Rob Roy slips away from and around its title. This, paradoxically, is how it becomes the book we remember.
What is Rob Roy about, if not the title character? In some of Scott’s novels, we would get a clue from a framing chapter. But not here. At this point in his career, Scott wrote his novels anonymously, but neither the “Author of Waverley” nor one of his usual and fictive compilers or commentators helps us figure out what is to come. In the first edition, a one-page advertisement written by “the Editor” refers to a bundle of papers that provided the outline for the tale. We might expect these papers to give solid grounding to the story. But no: necessary alterations were “so numerous, that, besides the suppression of names . . . the work may in a great measure be said to be new written.” Surely the papers at least provide the story of Frank, who in the novel looks back at his early life. But even as he speaks, Frank recedes from us. Young Frank Osbaldistone takes a path from London to Northumberland and on to the Highlands by way of Glasgow that looks very like the stereotypical route of self-discovery. Yet Frank as narrator writes to a younger friend and recommends that the stories—which the friend thinks interesting enough to merit retelling—be set aside till his passing. At that time, as Frank says, “the follies and headstrong impetuosity of my youth will meet the same kind construction and forgiveness which have so often attended the faults of my matured age” (page 2). Something exciting is coming, but what? And in the end, it may prove to be less about Frank than about our ability as readers to engage with his story and with him. This, to me, is what fascinates about Rob Roy.
Rob Roy is from its beginning full of the things that we expect in a Scott novel. We wend our way northward with Frank, stopping at inns, chatting with fellow travelers, thinking about how the horse trots; we pay an extended visit to Osbaldistone Hall, participating in the daily routine of hunting, carousing, gossiping with the gardener. A night ride to Glasgow is both harried and hilarious, as Frank struggles to keep pace with his crotchety guide. The city is experienced visually, commercially, and in terms of class and criminality. The Highlands exceed expectation, with their narrow paths, shaggy hillsides, and precipitous drops, never mind the dubious hospitality of the Clachan at Aberfoil. Along the way, we see the map filling in through Frank’s eyes. Step after step adds places, people, and possibilities.
We discover too that, whether or not Rob Roy is central to the novel, the story is replete with character, as its first critics appreciated. The reviewer for the European Magazine read the book twice to examine the characters at his leisure. These were admired “from the formal arithmetical Owen to the jovial Justice; from the conceited shrewd Andrew Fairservice to the bold unconquerable MacGregor; from the comfortable, self-complacent, thrifty, yet kind-hearted Baillie, Nicol Jervie [sic], to the vindictive Helen, or the high-spirited romantic Diana Vernon.” The North American Review saw that we are not oppressed by stately figures, but invited into homes so ordinary they are usually ignored. Scott’s great achievement was to give unrecognized people a place “as important as that which they fill in the real world,” and to let them each “lay open his whole mind; there is no attempt to give an artificial unity and condensation to the character.”* Perhaps this is why we can hear echoes of Smollett and Fielding characters in Justice Inglewood or the Glasgow bailie, or precursors for Dickens’s world, and yet sense a greater complexity in person and society alike.
The North American Review recognized too that readers of Rob Roy are “in the midst of life, gaining knowledge as well as entertainment, by a process akin to actual experience and observation.”* Scott already was praised for his geographical and historical knowledge, and Rob Roy may have been stimulated by an actual artifact, the notorious Highlander’s purse, which Joseph Train gave to the author a few months before he began to write.* In July 1817, Scott toured sites associated with Rob Roy, refreshing his memory on Loch Lomond and in Glasgow, where he visited a weaving factory and gained information on Nicol Jarvie’s business. Still, for a novel that takes place around the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, when supporters of the ousted Scots and English Stuart monarchy rose against the imported house of Hanover and George I, Rob Roy makes historical particulars and outcomes strangely irrelevant. Indeed Frank, resident with his Catholic and Jacobite cousins at Osbaldistone Hall, “rather avoided than availed [him]self of any opportunity which occurred of remarking upon the signs of the times” (page 190).
Importantly, the story lies beyond the history of battles and dates; it foregrounds the complexities of political loyalties divided, as they always are, across places and within families. Scott gives a rich sense of how Jacobitism, in the years leading up to the 1715 rebellion, straddled the debatable lands of the south of Scotland and north of England, how religious affinities did not necessarily mark political allegiances, and so on. Rob Roy himself is in service to multiple and not always aligned causes, one of them commerce. It is here that, as Scott’s critics recognized, the author most successfully builds knowledge, showing yet concealing character according to its multifacetedness, and challenging us toward an understanding that is the more authentic because it is never complete.
Thus we know Frank so well because, for all that he is the narrator, he doesn’t know himself. A dreaming boy focused on his poetry, Frank is a bit of a vacancy. As Jane Millgate says, “This unreflecting narrator reveals himself as having been an unreflecting young man.”* However, it is because Frank is relatively inadequate that others start to life; and it is through their encounters with him that the reader is challenged to appreciate character in all its complexity and contingency. Without Frank’s poetry and his resistance to business, there would be no stepping on his father’s sensitivities and no swap of sons; without ambitious cousin Rashleigh moving to London to take up Frank’s place, there would be no opportunity to undermine credit and push impecunious Scots toward the commercial venture that is war; without the risk of commercial failure, Frank would not race to Scotland and find himself aligned with Bailie Jarvie and a host of enlightening others. Without Frank’s journey to Scotland, in fact, we could not appreciate the web of personal, financial, and political credit that weaves characters together through their flaws, opportunities, and inadequacies alike.
Frank is part of that web. With every rearrangement around Frank as he moves in the landscape, his value is renegotiated. The lonely Diana Vernon seizes on his intellectual superiority to their shared fox-hunting cousins; Andrew Fairservice, in his self-interest, recognizes Frank as a good master. Outlaw Rob Roy wryly appreciates him for his mettle. Frank himself, once tested by his father’s threatened failure, can surprise by action. Although he “found” himself summarily expelled from London and on the road to York, hearing of his father’s risk, he shows determination: “My mind . . . was bent on averting this catastrophe . . . and the result of my deliberation was a firm resolution to . . . wend my way without loss of time” to Glasgow (page 180). Of course, the resolution of the plot depends on Diana Vernon’s influence among rebels and reactionaries alike—in the middle of the hostile waste, Frank suddenly receives from her hand the materials that conclude his quest. Moreover, Frank’s escapades conclude in reconciliation with his father, his inheritance of Osbaldistone Hall, from which his father had been exiled in his day, and his offstage marriage to Diana. Hamlet, frequently echoed in this drama of fathers and sons, ends up domesticated. So whatever Frank’s contingent importance to individuals, or his personal growth, Rob Roy may seem a mild family romance in the end.
Yet, as an inadequate, then refracted, and finally domesticated protagonist, Frank may prove a hero for his times, and allow space for a kind of heroic reading practice in our times. Frank challenges those he meets, and challenges us as readers, to recognize his worth in the midst of complexity. He in turn is capable of recognizing Rob Roy. Diana Vernon, her reputation challenged in ways no less devastating because they are conventional, makes the dynamic clear. In contrast to Frank, Diana is most definitely a presence in the novel and an astute operator in the time period it fictionalizes. Comparison between these two very different characters indicates what is at stake for us in this novel of complicated loyalties and imprecise desires.
If Frank is not interested in politics, Diana is embroiled in those of family and nation. While he, a naive observer, merely surveys the strange landscape of Northumberland, she interprets it; while he moons over this seductively straightforward young woman, she is deep in contemporary plots yet capable of setting his world to rights. Small wonder that generations of readers have identified her as their favorite heroine. What female reader is not seduced by the straightforward declaration of grievances—“In the first place, I am a girl” (page 95)—of “Die,” “call me Tom,” Vernon (page 54)?
However it is Die who, in her “unprotected” state, foregrounds the issue of personal worth as negotiated inevitably through the opinions of others. Leaving London, Frank has money in his pocket, but he is no longer heir presumptive to a fortune made by commerce. His value is open to determination. The sole woman among the cousins at Osbaldistone Hall and with no visible parent, Die risks bold actions that make male reputations but bring into question those of women. In this respect, she is the foil for the novel’s second historical character, Rob Roy’s wife, Helen MacGregor. A “Bonduca” or Boadicea and “Amazon,” in the clash of Highland and commercial worlds, Helen has been a casualty, left with “neither name nor fame” (page 319). But though, she says, “my mother’s bones will shrink aside in their grave when mine are laid beside them” (page 319), this woman has gained a devastating power because rape has exiled her from convention. Frank sees her first as she poises to attack; she is specked with blood when they meet. Reputations shift and can suffer in circulation, yet both Helen and Die show, in what we might consider a very modern way, the freedom and the responsibility that can result.
Freedom and responsibility are a double-sided opportunity, ideally enhanced by our relations with others. Diana raises Frank’s value and potential by her recognition, and shows her own insight. Similarly, she and Helen implicate us in their own evaluation. So tested, the limited Andrew Fairservice sees Diana as “in a manner lost, body and saul” (page 62). Justice Inglewood worries about her fate: “here’s poor Die Vernon too,” he laments; “left to ride, and run, and scamper at her own silly pleasure.” He warns Frank, “Thou must be careful of Die” (page 91). But both rather miss the point. Raped and threatened women, viewed unflinchingly by Walter Scott, demonstrate the problems and the potential of the commerce that comes down to human relationships. All relationships are two-way. Failing to recognize Diana, Andrew Fairservice devalues himself. The challenge to the reader, then, lies in how far we can recognize the worth of these complex characters. Are we ourselves worthy of Scott’s rich society?
This question of mutual valuation extends throughout the novel. Consider that Frank’s father’s credit depends in part on his purchase of Highland lands, but whether through lack of sympathy with his son, lack of knowledge about his nephew Rashleigh, or lack of interest in politics, his business and reputation totter, and friends fall on evil times. Perhaps ongoing and accurate valuation of one another is in some respects a responsibility. Nonetheless, decent practices make unexpected friends, even for the thoughtless. Bailie Jarvie remembers Osbaldistone senior’s honesty. More, the bailie thinks of “puir Rob” and the “puir sodgers” together, suppressing their difference and their threat in recognition of their suffering. He is the one, too, who understands even Helen, seeing her violence as rooted in “perturbation of mind” (page 372). Relationships of any kind, it turns out, are forged moment to moment through connection and reconsideration. From every singular exchange comes a multiplicity of shifts in value. And through the power of sympathy, it is the valuer who, most of all, is constantly revalued.
This, in the end, is how we come to understanding. Here Rashleigh proves informative. Gifted with a seductive voice but confined in a damaged body, Catholic by upbringing but political and variable in his loyalties, cousin Rashleigh is ever the villain, and his great sin is to manipulate others. As Diana has it, “he’s a mighty hunter . . . and his game is man” (page 65). Frank stumbles good-naturedly, and often unawares, from problem to problem, such that others persistently must intervene on his behalf, whether to send him to Glasgow or to save him from a duel. By contrast, Rashleigh is an opportunist, and every moment is about his own needs. Consequently, his final words remain full of reductive accounting and venomous opposition: “I hate you!” he declares to Frank: “in love, in ambition, in the paths of interest, you have crossed and blighted me at every turn” (page 431). Rashleigh insists upon control, seizes on opposition, and refuses the generosity of others that, in the very context of our human failings, makes us a richly interconnected and varied community. From this perspective, Frank’s lack of self-reflection seems like an asset—a lack of self-absorption that allows the free flow of sympathy. Although Osbaldistone senior was in his day exiled from home and patrimony, and Frank suffers the same fate in turn, their wanderings in the wilderness, whether of commerce or of Scotland, build relationships.
Where does such a community stop? Nowhere, it seems. Scott knew as much for himself. While he wrote Rob Roy, he negotiated cannily with publishers and raised a borders mansion as a sign of his worth. At the same time, he struggled with an illness that, in those days, as easily promised death as recovery. Yet daily he joked with the workers at Abbotsford, relishing their dialect and making them part of his community of literature—thus “whummle,” “the very word . . . [he’d] been huntin’ for a’ mornin’,” according to the mason, found its way into Bailie Nicol Jarvie’s mouth. And as the post-Napoleonic recession hit Britain, Scott kept more than thirty men working to improve his newly acquired lands. “This I do not call charity because they executed some . . . works which I could never have got done so cheaply. . . . But neither was it altogether selfish,” he wrote, “because I was . . . incurring the expense . . . to serve mine honest neighbours who were likely to want work but for such exertion.”*
Scott was still negotiating for his fictive friends when, in 1829, he revised Rob Roy for his collected novels. Stories of Rob Roy now stretched into a seventy-page introduction with appendices; a throwaway note on the minister of Aberfoil gained a further note on that worthy’s death—which had to be retracted in a subsequent volume when Scott found to his chagrin and pleasure that the minister in fact was still alive. Peripheral as we may be, it seems that like the minister of Aberfoil, we circulate day to day, and gain value in mutual appreciation. Walter Scott was thoroughly involved in the exchange of generosity that is community.
And this is how we become the heirs to Rob Roy. If Frank begins by rejecting his inheritance, and looks toward death without an heir, sharing his memories with the son of his father’s business partner, it is on his readers, as much as on young Tresham, that he depends for recognition. Throughout Frank’s adventures, others showed their worth by recognizing value within his unpromising character. The novel, then, speaks its challenge ultimately to us. In those debatable lands, the uncertainties of everyday life, do we have the stature, in ourselves, to recognize a friend?
Generations of authors certainly have recognized Rob Roy as a precursor and themselves as literary heirs. The thoughtless Frank gives place to Charles Dickens’s Pip in the aptly named Great Expectations, published in 1861. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, published in 1886, features the grumpy David Balfour, who begins in self-importance, is kidnapped into commerce—destined as he is for servitude in the colonies—and quarrels his way across the Highlands with Alan Breck Stewart to gain maturity in recognition of this flawed friend. Scott offers an ethos that echoes through the nineteenth- and twentieth-century novel to land, as a test to kinship, in our hands today. Rob Roy is indeed “Wonderful stuff!”
How have I sinn’d, that this affliction
Should light so heavy on me? I have no more sons,
And this no more mine own.—My grand curse
Hang o’er his head that thus transform’d thee!—Travel?
I’ll send my horse to travel next.
YOU HAVE requested me, my dear friend, to bestow some of that leisure, with which Providence has blessed the decline of my life, in registering the hazards and difficulties which attended its commencement. The recollection of those adventures, as you are pleased to term them, has indeed left upon my mind a checkered and varied feeling of pleasure and of pain, mingled, I trust, with no slight gratitude and veneration to the Disposer of human events, who guided my early course through much risk and labor, that the ease with which he has blessed my prolonged life, might seem softer from remembrance and contrast. Neither is it possible for me to doubt, what you have often affirmed, that the incidents which befell me among a people singularly primitive in their government and manners, have something interesting and attractive for those who love to hear an old man’s stories of a past age.
Still, however, you must remember, that the tale told by one friend, and listened to by another, loses half its charms when committed to paper; and that the narratives to which you have attended with interest, as heard from the voice of him to whom they occurred, will appear less deserving of attention when perused in the seclusion of your study. But your greener age and robust constitution promise longer life than will, in all human probability, be the lot of your friend. Throw, then, these sheets into some secret drawer of your escritoire till we are separated from each other’s society by an event which may happen at any moment, and which must happen within the course of a few—a very few years. When we are parted in this world, to meet, I hope, in a better, you will, I am well aware, cherish more than it deserves the memory of your departed friend, and will find in those details which I am now to commit to paper, matter for melancholy, but not unpleasing reflection. Others bequeath to the confidants of their bosom portraits of their external features—I put into your hands a faithful transcript of my thoughts and feelings, of my virtues and of my failings, with the assured hope, that the follies and headstrong impetuosity of my youth will meet the same kind construction and forgiveness which have so often attended the faults of my matured age.
One advantage, among the many, of addressing my Memoirs (if I may give these sheets a name so imposing) to a dear and intimate friend, is, that I may spare some of the details, in this case unnecessary, with which I must needs have detained a stranger from what I have to say of greater interest. Why should I bestow all my tediousness upon you, because I have you in my power, and have ink, paper, and time before me? At the same time, I dare not promise that I may not abuse the opportunity so temptingly offered me, to treat of myself and my own concerns, even though I speak of circumstances as well known to you as to myself. The seductive love of narrative, when we ourselves are the heroes of the events which we tell, often disregards the attention due to the time and patience of the audience, and the best and wisest have yielded to its fascination. I need only remind you of the singular instance evinced by the form of that rare and original edition of Sully’s Memoirs, which you (with the fond vanity of a book-collector) insist upon preferring to that which is reduced to the useful and ordinary form of Memoirs, but which I think curious, solely as illustrating how far so great a man as the author was accessible to the foible of self-importance. If I recollect rightly, that venerable peer and great statesman had appointed no fewer than four gentlemen of his household to draw up the events of his life, under the title of Memorials of the Sage and Royal Affairs of State, Domestic, Political, and Military, transacted by Henry IV., and so forth. These grave recorders, having made their compilation, reduced the Memoirs containing all the remarkable events of their master’s life into a narrative, addressed to himself in propria persona. And thus, instead of telling his own story, in the third person, like Julius Cæsar, or in the first person, like most who, in the hall, or the study, undertake to be the heroes of their own tale, Sully enjoyed the refined, though whimsical pleasure, of having the events of his life told over to him by his secretaries, being himself the auditor, as he was also the hero, and probably the author, of the whole book. It must have been a great sight to have seen the ex-minister, as bolt upright as a starched ruff and laced cassock could make him, seated in state beneath his canopy, and listening to the recitation of his compilers, while, standing bare in his presence, they informed him gravely, “Thus said the duke—so did the duke infer—such were your grace’s sentiments upon this important point—such were your secret counsels to the king on that other emergency,”—circumstances, all of which must have been much better known to their hearer than to themselves, and most of which could only be derived from his own special communication.
My situation is not quite so ludicrous as that of the great Sully, and yet there would be something whimsical in Frank Osbaldistone giving Will Tresham a formal account of his birth, education, and connections in the world. I will, therefore, wrestle with the tempting spirit of P. P., Clerk of our Parish, as I best may, and endeavor to tell you nothing that is familiar to you already. Some things, however, I must recall to your memory, because, though formerly well known to you, they may have been forgotten through lapse of time, and they afford the ground-work of my destiny.
You must remember my father well; for as your own was a member of the mercantile house, you knew him from infancy. Yet you hardly saw him in his best days, before age and infirmity had quenched his ardent spirit of enterprise and speculation. He would have been a poorer man indeed, but perhaps as happy, had he devoted to the extension of science those active energies, and acute powers of observation, for which commercial pursuits found occupation. Yet, in the fluctuations of mercantile speculation, there is something captivating to the adventurer, even independent of the hope of gain. He who embarks on that fickle sea, requires to possess the skill of the pilot and the fortitude of the navigator, and after all may be wrecked and lost, unless the gales of fortune breathe in his favor. This mixture of necessary attention and inevitable hazard,—the frequent and awful uncertainty whether prudence shall overcome fortune, or fortune baffle the schemes of prudence, affords full occupation for the powers, as well as for the feelings of the mind, and trade has all the fascination of gambling without its moral guilt.
Early in the eighteenth century, when I (Heaven help me) was a youth of some twenty years old, I was summoned suddenly from Bordeaux to attend my father on business of importance. I shall never forget our first interview. You recollect the brief, abrupt, and somewhat stern mode in which he was wont to communicate his pleasure to those around him. Methinks I see him even now in my mind’s eye;—the firm and upright figure,—the step, quick and determined,—the eye, which shot so keen and so penetrating a glance,—the features, on which care had already planted wrinkles,—and hear his language, in which he never wasted word in vain, expressed in a voice which had sometimes an occasional harshness, far from the intention of the speaker.
When I dismounted from my post-horse, I hastened to my father’s apartment. He was traversing it with an air of composed and steady deliberation, which even my arrival, although an only son unseen for four years, was unable to discompose. I threw myself into his arms. He was a kind, though not a fond father, and the tear twinkled in his dark eye, but it was only for a moment.
“Dubourg writes to me that he is satisfied with you, Frank.”
“I am happy, sir——”
“But I have less reason to be so,” he added, sitting down at his bureau.
“I am sorry, sir——”
“Sorry and happy, Frank, are words that, on most occasions, signify little or nothing—Here is your last letter.”
He took it out from a number of others tied up in a parcel of red tape, and curiously labeled and filed. There lay my poor epistle, written on the subject the nearest to my heart at the time, and couched in words which I had thought would work compassion, if not conviction,—there, I say, it lay, squeezed up among the letters on miscellaneous business in which my father’s daily affairs had engaged him. I cannot help smiling internally when I recollect the mixture of hurt vanity, and wounded feeling, with which I regarded my remonstrance, to the penning of which there had gone, I promise you, some trouble, as I beheld it extracted from amongst letters of advice, of credit, and all the commonplace lumber, as I then thought them, of a merchant’s correspondence. Surely, thought I, a letter of such importance (I dared not say, even to myself, so well written) deserved a separate place, as well as more anxious consideration, than those on the ordinary business of the counting-house.
But my father did not observe my dissatisfaction, and would not have minded it if he had. He proceeded, with the letter in his hand. “This, Frank, is yours of the twenty-first ultimo, in which you advise me, (reading from my letter), that in the most important business of forming a plan, and adopting a profession for life, you trust my paternal goodness will hold you entitled to at least a negative voice; that you have insuperable—ay, insuperable is the word—I wish, by the way, you would write a more distinct current hand—draw a score through the tops of your t’s, and open the loops of your 1’s—insuperable objections to the arrangements which I have proposed to you. There is much more to the same effect, occupying four good pages of paper, which a little attention to perspicuity and distinctness of expression might have comprised within as many lines. For, after all, Frank, it amounts but to this, that you will not do as I would have you.”
“That I cannot, sir, in the present instance; not that I will not.”
“Words avail very little with me, young man,” said my father, whose inflexibility always possessed the air of the most perfect calmness and self-possession. “Can not may be a more civil phrase than will not, but the expressions are synonymous where there is no moral impossibility. But I am not a friend to doing business hastily; we will talk this matter over after dinner.—Owen!”
Owen appeared, not with the silver locks which you were used to venerate, for he was then little more than fifty; but he had the same, or an exactly similar uniform suit of light brown clothes,—the same pearl-gray silk stockings, the same stock, with its silver buckle,—the same plaited cambric ruffles, drawn down over his knuckles in the parlor, but in the counting-house carefully folded back under the sleeves, that they might remain unstained by the ink which he daily consumed;—in a word, the same grave, formal, yet benevolent cast of features, which continued to his death to distinguish the head clerk of the great house of Osbaldistone and Tresham.
“Owen,” said my father, as the kind old man shook me affectionately by the hand, “you must dine with us to-day, and hear the news Frank has brought us from our friends in Bordeaux.”
Owen made one of his stiff bows of respectful gratitude; for, in those days, when the distance between superiors and inferiors was enforced in a manner to which the present times are strangers, such an invitation was a favor of some little consequence.
I shall long remember that dinner-party. Deeply affected by feelings of anxiety, not unmingled with displeasure, I was unable to take that active share in the conversation which my father seemed to expect from me; and I too frequently gave unsatisfactory answers to the questions with which he assailed me. Owen, hovering betwixt his respect for his patron, and his love for the youth he had dandled on his knee in childhood, like the timorous, yet anxious ally of an invaded nation, endeavored at every blunder I made to explain my no-meaning, and to cover my retreat; maneuvers which added to my father’s pettish displeasure, and brought a share of it upon my kind advocate, instead of protecting me. I had not, while residing in the house of Dubourg, absolutely conducted myself like
A clerk condemn’d his father’s soul to cross,
Who penn’d a stanza when he should engross;—
but, to say truth, I had frequented the counting-house no more than I had thought absolutely necessary to secure the good report of the Frenchman, long a correspondent of our firm, to whom my father had trusted for initiating me into the mysteries of commerce. In fact, my principal attention had been dedicated to literature and manly exercises. My father did not altogether discourage such acquirements, whether mental or personal. He had too much good sense not to perceive, that they sate gracefully upon every man, and he was sensible that they relieved and dignified the character to which he wished me to aspire. But his chief ambition was, that I should succeed not merely to his fortune, but to the views and plans by which he imagined he could extend and perpetuate the wealthy inheritance which he designed for me.
Love of his profession was the motive which he chose should be most ostensible, when he urged me to tread the same path; but he had others with which I only became acquainted at a later period. Impetuous in his schemes, as well as skillful and daring, each new adventure, when successful, became at once the incentive, and furnished the means, for farther speculation. It seemed to be necessary to him, as to an ambitious conqueror, to push on from achievement to achievement, without stopping to secure, far less to enjoy, the acquisitions which he made. Accustomed to see his whole fortune trembling in the scales of chance, and dexterous at adopting expedients for casting the balance in his favor, his health and spirits and activity seemed ever to increase with the animating hazards on which he staked his wealth; and he resembled a sailor, accustomed to brave the billows and the foe, whose confidence rises on the eve of tempest or of battle. He was not, however, insensible to the changes which increasing age or supervening malady might make in his own constitution; and was anxious in good time to secure in me an assistant, who might take the helm when his hand grew weary, and keep the vessel’s way according to his counsel and instruction. Paternal affection, as well as the furtherance of his own plans, determined him to the same conclusion. Your father, though his fortune was vested in the house, was only a sleeping partner, as the commercial phrase goes; and Owen, whose probity and skill in the details of arithmetic rendered the services invaluable as a head clerk, was not possessed either of information or talents sufficient to conduct the mysteries of the principal management. If my father were suddenly summoned from life, what would become of the world of schemes which he had formed, unless his son were molded into a commercial Hercules, fit to sustain the weight when relinquished by the falling Atlas? and what would become of that son himself, if, a stranger to business of this description, he found himself at once involved in the labyrinth of mercantile concerns, without the clue of knowledge necessary for his extraction? For all these reasons, avowed and secret, my father was determined I should embrace his profession; and when he was determined, the resolution of no man was more immovable. I, however, was also a party to be consulted, and, with something of his own pertinacity, I had formed a determination precisely contrary.
It may, I hope, be some palliative for the resistance which, on this occasion, I offered to my father’s wishes, that I did not fully understand upon what they were founded, or how deeply his happiness was involved in them. Imagining myself certain of a large succession in future, and ample maintenance in the meanwhile, it never occurred to me that it might be necessary, in order to secure these blessings, to submit to labor and limitations unpleasant to my taste and temper. I only saw in my father’s proposal for my engaging in business, a desire that I should add to those heaps of wealth which he had himself acquired; and imagining myself the best judge of the path to my own happiness, I did not conceive that I should increase that happiness by augmenting a fortune which I believed was already sufficient, and more than sufficient, for every use, comfort, and elegant enjoyment.
Accordingly, I am compelled to repeat, that my time at Bordeaux had not been spent as my father had proposed to himself. What he considered as the chief end of my residence in that city, I had postponed for every other, and would (had I dared) have neglected it altogether. Dubourg, a favored and benefited correspondent of our mercantile house, was too much of a shrewd politician to make such reports to the head of the firm concerning his only child, as would excite the displeasure of both; and he might also, as you will presently hear, have views of selfish advantage in suffering me to neglect the purposes for which I was placed under his charge. My conduct was regulated by the bounds of decency and good order, and thus far he had no evil report to make, supposing him so disposed; but, perhaps, the crafty Frenchman would have been equally complaisant, had I been in the habit of indulging worse feelings than those of indolence and aversion to mercantile business. As it was, while I gave a decent portion of my time to the commercial studies he recommended, he was by no means envious of the hours which I dedicated to other and more classical attainments, nor did he ever find fault with me for dwelling upon Corneille and Boileau, in preference to Postlethwayte, (supposing his folio to have then existed, and Monsieur Dubourg able to have pronounced his name,) or Savary, or any other writer on commercial economy. He had picked up somewhere a convenient expression, with which he rounded off every letter to his correspondent,—“I was all,” he said, “that a father could wish.”
My father never quarrelled with a phrase, however frequently repeated, provided it seemed to him distinct and expressive; and Addison himself could not have found expressions so satisfactory to him as, “Yours received, and duly honored the bills enclosed, as per margin.”
Knowing, therefore, very well what he desired me to be, Mr. Osbaldistone made no doubt, from the frequent repetition of Dubourg’s favorite phrase, that I was the very thing he wished to see me; when, in an evil hour, he received my letter, containing my eloquent and detailed apology for declining a place in the firm, and a desk and stool in the corner of the dark counting-house in Crane Alley, surmounting in height those of Owen, and the other clerks, and only inferior to the tripod of my father himself. All was wrong from that moment. Dubourg’s reports became as suspicious as if his bills had been noted for dishonor. I was summoned home in all haste, and received in the manner I have already communicated to you.
I begin shrewdly to suspect the young man of a terrible taint—Poetry; with which idle disease if he be infected, there’s no hope of him in a state course. Actum est of him for a commonwealth’s man, if he go to’t in rhyme once.
Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair.
MY FATHER had, generally speaking, his temper under complete self-command, and his anger rarely indicated itself by words, except in a sort of dry testy manner, to those who had displeased him. He never used threats, or expressions of loud resentment. All was arranged with him on system, and it was his practice to do “the needful” on every occasion, without wasting words about it. It was, therefore, with a bitter smile that he listened to my imperfect answers concerning the state of commerce in France, and unmercifully permitted me to involve myself deeper and deeper in the mysteries of agio, tariffs, tare and tret; nor can I charge my memory with his having looked positively angry, until he found me unable to explain the exact effect which the depreciation of the louis d’or had produced on the negotiation of bills of exchange. “The most remarkable national occurrence in my time,” said my father, (who nevertheless had seen the Revolution), “and he knows no more of it than a post on the quay!”
“Mr. Francis,” suggested Owen, in his timid and conciliatory manner, “cannot have forgotten, that by an arret of the King of France, dated 1st May, 1700, it was provided that the porteur, within ten days after due, must make demand——”
“Mr. Francis,” said my father, interrupting him, “will, I dare say, recollect for the moment any thing you are so kind as hint to him.—But, body o’ me! how Dubourg could permit him!—Hark ye, Owen, what sort of a youth is Clement Dubourg, his nephew there, in the office, the black-haired lad?”
“One of the cleverest clerks, sir, in the house; a prodigious young man for his time,” answered Owen; for the gaiety and civility of the young Frenchman had won his heart.
“Ay, ay, I suppose he knows something of the nature of exchange. Dubourg was determined I should have one youngster at least about my hand who understood business; but I see his drift, and he shall find that I do so when he looks at the balance-sheet. Owen, let Clement’s salary be paid up to next quarter-day, and let him ship himself back to Bordeaux in his father’s ship, which is clearing out yonder.”
“Dismiss Clement Dubourg, sir?” said Owen, with a faltering voice.
“Yes, sir, dismiss him instantly; it is enough to have a stupid Englishman in the counting-house to make blunders, without keeping a sharp Frenchman there to profit by them.”
I had lived long enough in the territories of the Grand Monarque to contract a hearty aversion to arbitrary exertion of authority, even if it had not been instilled into me with my earliest breeding; and I could not refrain from interposing, to prevent an innocent and meritorious young man from paying the penalty of having acquired that proficiency which my father had desired for me.
“I beg pardon, sir,” when Mr. Osbaldistone had done speaking, “but I think it but just, that if I have been negligent of my studies, I should pay the forfeit myself. I have no reason to charge Monsieur Dubourg with having neglected to give me opportunities of improvement, however little I may have profited by them; and, with respect to Monsieur Clement Dubourg——”
“With respect to him, and to you, I shall take the measures which I see needful,” replied my father; “but it is fair in you, Frank, to take your own blame on your own shoulders—very fair, that cannot be denied.—I cannot acquit old Dubourg,” he said, looking to Owen, “for having merely afforded Frank the means of useful knowledge, without either seeing that he took advantage of them, or reporting to me if he did not. You see, Owen, he has natural notions of equity becoming a British merchant.”
“Mr. Francis,” said the head clerk, with his usual formal inclination of the head, and a slight elevation of his right hand, which he had acquired by a habit of sticking his pen behind his ear before he spoke—“Mr. Francis seems to understand the fundamental principle of all moral accounting, the great ethic rule of three. Let A do to B, as he would have B do to him; the product will give the rule of conduct required.”
My father smiled at this reduction of the golden rule to arithmetical form, but instantly proceeded.
“All this signifies nothing, Frank; you have been throwing away your time like a boy, and in future you must learn to live like a man. I shall put you under Owen’s care for a few months, to recover the lost ground.”
I was about to reply, but Owen looked at me with such a supplicatory and warning gesture, that I was involuntarily silent.
“We will then,” continued my father, “resume the subject of mine of the first ultimo, to which you sent me an answer which was unadvised and unsatisfactory. So now, fill your glass, and push the bottle to Owen.”
Want of courage—of audacity, if you will—was never my failing. I answered firmly, “I was sorry that my letter was unsatisfactory; unadvised it was not; for I had given the proposal his goodness had made me my instant and anxious attention, and it was with no small pain that I found myself obliged to decline it.”
My father bent his keen eye for a moment on me, and instantly withdrew it. As he made no answer, I thought myself obliged to proceed, though with some hesitation, and he only interrupted me by monosyllables.
“It is impossible, sir, for me to have higher respect for any character than I have for the commercial, even were it not yours.”
“It connects nation with nation, relieves the wants, and contributes to the wealth of all; and is to the general commonwealth of the civilized world what the daily intercourse of ordinary life is to private society, or rather, what air and food are to our bodies.”
“And yet, sir, I find myself compelled to persist in declining to adopt a character which I am so ill qualified to support.”
“I will take care that you acquire the qualifications necessary. You are no longer the guest and pupil of Dubourg.”
“But, my dear sir, it is no defect of teaching which I plead, but my own inability to profit by instruction.”
“Nonsense; have you kept your journal in the terms I desired?”
“Be pleased to bring it here.”
The volume thus required was a sort of commonplace book, kept by my father’s recommendation, in which I had been directed to enter notes of the miscellaneous information which I had acquired in the course of my studies. Foreseeing that he would demand inspection of this record, I had been attentive to transcribe such particulars of information as he would most likely be pleased with, but too often the pen had discharged the task without much correspondence with the head. And it had also happened that, the book being the receptacle nearest to my hand, I had occasionally jotted down memoranda which had little regard to traffic. I now put it into my father’s hand, devoutly hoping he might light on nothing that would increase his displeasure against me. Owen’s face, which had looked something blank when the question was put, cleared up at my ready answer, and wore a smile of hope, when I brought from my apartment, and placed before my father, a commercial-looking volume, rather broader than it was long, having brazen clasps and a binding of rough calf. This looked business-like, and was encouraging to my benevolent well-wisher. But he actually smiled with pleasure as he heard my father run over some part of the contents, muttering his critical remarks as he went on.
“Brandies—Barils and barricants, also tonneaux.—At Nantz 29—Velles to the barique at Cognac and Rochelle 27—At Bordeaux 32—Very right, Frank—Duties on tonnage and custom-house, see Saxby’s Tables—That’s not well; you should have transcribed the passage; it fixes the thing in the memory—Reports outward and inward—Corn debentures—Over-sea Cockets—Linens—lsingham—Gentish—Stockfish—Titling—Cropling—Lub-fish. You should have noted that they are all, nevertheless, to be entered as titlings.— How many inches long is a titling?”
Owen, seeing me at fault, hazarded a whisper, of which I fortunately caught the import.
“Eighteen inches, sir——”
“And a lub-fish is twenty-four—very right. It is important to remember this, on account of the Portuguese trade.—But what have we here?—Bordeaux founded in the year—Castle of the Trompette—Palace of Gallienus—Well, well, that’s very right too.—This is a kind of waste-book, Owen, in which all the transactions of the day, emptions, orders, payments, receipts, acceptances, draughts, commissions, and advices, are entered miscellaneously.”
“That they may be regularly transferred to the day-book and ledger,” answered Owen; “I am glad Mr. Francis is so methodical.”
I perceived myself getting so fast into favor, that I began to fear the consequence would be my father’s more obstinate perseverance in his resolution that I must become a merchant; and, as I was determined on the contrary, I began to wish I had not, to use my friend Mr. Owen’s phrase, been so methodical. But I had no reason for apprehension on that score; for a blotted piece of paper dropped out of the book, and, being taken up by my father, he interrupted a hint from Owen, on the propriety of securing loose memoranda with a little paste, by exclaiming, “To the memory of Edward the Black Prince—What’s all this?—verses!—By Heaven, Frank, you are a greater blockhead than I supposed you!”
My father, you must recollect, as a man of business, looked upon the labor of poets with contempt; and as a religious man, and of the dissenting persuasion, he considered all such pursuits as equally trivial and profane. Before you condemn him, you must recall to remembrance how too many of the poets in the end of the seventeenth century had led their lives and employed their talents. The sect also to which my father belonged, felt, or perhaps affected, a puritanical aversion to the lighter exertions of literature. So that many causes contributed to augment the unpleasant surprise occasioned by the ill-timed discovery of this unfortunate copy of verses. As for poor Owen, could the bob-wig which he then wore have uncurled itself, and stood on end with horror, I am convinced the morning’s labor of the friseur would have been undone, merely by the excess of his astonishment at this enormity. An inroad on the strong-box, or an erasure in the ledger, or a missummation in a fitted account, could hardly have surprised him more disagreeably. My father read the lines sometimes with an affectation of not being able to understand the sense,—sometimes in a mouthing tone of mock heroic,—always with an emphasis of the most bitter irony, most irritating to the nerves of an author.
“‘O for the voice of that wild horn,
On Fontarabian echoes borne,
The dying hero’s call,
That told imperial Charlemagne,
How Paynim sons of swarthy Spain
Had wrought his champion’s fall.’
“Fontarabian echoes!” continued my father, interrupting himself; “the Fontarabian Fair would have been more to the purpose.—Paynim?—What’s Paynim?—Could you not say Pagan as well, and write English, at least, if you must needs write nonsense?—
“‘Sad over earth and ocean sounding,
And England’s distant cliffs astounding,
Such are the notes should say
How Britain’s hope, and France’s fear,
Victor of Cressy and Poitier,
In Bordeaux dying lay.’
“Poitiers, by the way, is always spelt with an s, and I know no reason why orthography should give place to rhyme.—
“‘Raise my faint head, my squires,’ he said,
‘And let the casement be display’d,
That I may see once more
The splendor of the setting sun
Gleam on thy mirror’d wave, Garonne,
And Blaye’s empurpled shore.’
“Garonne and sun is a bad rhyme. Why, Frank, you do not even understand the beggarly trade you have chosen.—
“‘Like me, he sinks to Glory’s sleep,
His fall the dews of evening steep,
As if in sorrow shed.
So soft shall fall the trickling tear,
When England’s maids and matrons hear
Of their Black Edward dead.’
“‘And though my sun of glory set,
Nor France, nor England shall forget
The terror of my name;
And oft shall Britain’s heroes rise,
New planets in these southern skies,
Through clouds of blood and flame.’
“A cloud of flame is something new—Good-morrow, my masters all, and a merry Christmas to you!—Why, the bellman writes better lines.” He then tossed the paper from him with an air of superlative contempt, and concluded,—“Upon my credit, Frank, you are a greater blockhead than I took you for.”
What could I say, my dear Tresham?—There I stood, swelling with indignant mortification, while my father regarded me with a calm but stern look of scorn and pity; and poor Owen, with uplifted hands and eyes, looked as striking a picture of horror as if he had just read his patron’s name in the Gazette. At length I took courage to speak, endeavoring that my tone of voice should betray my feelings as little as possible.
“I am quite aware, sir, how ill qualified I am to play the conspicuous part in society you have destined for me; and luckily, I am not ambitious of the wealth I might acquire. Mr. Owen would make a much more effective assistant.” I said this in some malice, for I considered Owen as having deserted my cause a little too soon.
“Owen?” said my father—“The boy is mad, actually insane. And, pray, sir, if I may presume to inquire, having coolly turned me over to Mr. Owen, (although I may expect more attention from any one than from my son,) what may your own sage projects be?”
“I should wish, sir,” I replied, summoning up my courage, “to travel for two or three years, should that consist with your pleasure; otherwise, although late, I would willingly spend the same time at Oxford or Cambridge.”
“In the name of common sense! was the like ever heard?—to put yourself to school among pedants and Jacobites, when you might be pushing your fortune in the world! Why not go to Westminster or Eton at once, man, and take to Lilly’s Grammar and Accidence, and to the birch, too, if you like it?”
“Then, sir, if you think my plan of improvement too late, I would willingly return to the Continent.”
“You have already spent too much time there to little purpose, Mr. Francis.”
“Then I would choose the army, sir, in preference to any other active line of life.”
“Choose the d—l,” answered my father, hastily, and then checking himself—“I profess you make me as great a fool as you are yourself.—Is he not enough to drive one mad, Owen?”—Poor Owen shook his head, and looked down. “Hark ye, Frank,” continued my father, “I will cut all this matter very short—I was at your age when my father turned me out of doors, and settled my legal inheritance on my younger brother. I left Osbaldistone Hall on the back of a broken-down hunter, with ten guineas in my purse. I have never crossed the threshold again, and I never will. I know not, and I care not, if my fox-hunting brother is alive, or has broken his neck; but he has children, Frank, and one of them shall be my son if you cross me farther in this matter.”
“You will do your pleasure,” I answered, rather, I fear, with more sullen indifference than respect, “with what is your own.”
“Yes, Frank, what I have is my own, if labor in getting, and care in augmenting, can make a right of property; and no drone shall feed on my honeycomb. Think on it well; what I have said is not without reflection, and what I resolve upon I will execute.”
“Honored sir—dear sir,” exclaimed Owen, tears rushing into his eyes, “you are not wont to be in such a hurry in transacting business of importance. Let Mr. Francis run up the balance before you shut the account; he loves you, I am sure; and when he puts down his filial obedience to the per contra, I am sure his objections will disappear.”
“Do you think I will ask him twice,” said my father sternly, “to be my friend, my assistant, and my confidant?—to be a partner of my cares and of my fortune?—Owen, I thought you had known me better.”
He looked at me as if he meant to add something more, but turned instantly away, and left the room abruptly. I was, I own, affected by this view of the case, which had not occurred to me; and my father would probably have had little reason to complain of me, had he commenced the discussion with this argument.
But it was too late. I had much of his own obduracy of resolution, and Heaven had decreed that my sin should be my punishment, though not to the extent which my transgression merited. Owen, when we were left alone, continued to look at me with eyes which tears from time to time moistened, as if to discover before attempting the task of intercessor, upon what point my obstinacy was most assailable. At length he began with broken and disconcerted accents,—“O L—d, Mr. Francis!—Good Heavens, sir!—My stars, Mr. Osbaldistone!—that I should ever have seen this day—and you so young a gentleman, sir—For the love of Heaven! look at both sides of the account—Think what you are going to lose—a noble fortune, sir—one of the finest houses in the City, even under the old firm of Tresham and Trent, and now Osbaldistone and Tresham—You might roll in gold, Mr. Francis—And, my dear young Mr. Frank, if there was any particular thing in the business of the house which you disliked, I would” (sinking his voice to a whisper) “put it in order for you termly, or weekly, or daily, if you will—Do, my dear Mr. Francis, think of the honor due to your father, that your days may be long in the land.”
“I am much obliged to you, Mr. Owen,” said I,—“very much obliged indeed; but my father is best judge of how to bestow his money. He talks of one of my cousins—let him dispose of his wealth as he pleases, I will never sell my liberty for gold.”
“Gold, sir?—I wish you saw the balance-sheet of profits at last term—It was in five figures—five figures to each partner’s sum total, Mr. Frank—And all this is to go to a Papist, and a north-country booby, and a disaffected person besides—It will break my heart, Mr. Francis, that have been toiling more like a dog than a man, and all for love of the firm.—Think how it will sound, Osbaldistone, Tresham, and Osbaldistone—or, perhaps, who knows,” (again lowering his voice,) “Osbaldistone, Osbaldistone, and Tresham, for our Mr. Osbaldistone can buy them all out.”
“But, Mr. Owen, my cousin’s name being also Osbaldistone, the name of the company will sound every bit as well in your ears.”
“O, fie upon you, Mr. Francis, when you know how well I love you—Your cousin, indeed!—a Papist, no doubt, like his father, and a disaffected person to the Protestant succession—that’s another item, doubtless.”
“There are many very good men Catholics, Mr. Owen,” rejoined I.
As Owen was about to answer with unusual animation, my father re-entered the apartment.
“You were right,” he said, “Owen, and I was wrong; we will take more time to think over this matter.—Young man, you will prepare to give me an answer on this important subject this day month.”
I bowed in silence, sufficiently glad of a reprieve, and trusting it might indicate some relaxation in my father’s determination.
The time of probation passed slowly, unmarked by any accident whatever. I went and came, and disposed of my time as I pleased, without question or criticism on the part of my father. Indeed, I rarely saw him, save at meal-times, when he studiously avoided a discussion which you may well suppose I was in no hurry to press onward. Our conversation was of the news of the day, or on such general topics as strangers discourse upon to each other; nor could any one have guessed, from its tenor, that there remained undecided betwixt us a dispute of such importance. It haunted me, however, more than once, like the nightmare. Was it possible he would keep his word, and disinherit his only son in favor of a nephew, whose very existence he was not perhaps quite certain of? My grandfather’s conduct, in similar circumstances, boded me no good, had I considered the matter rightly. But I had formed an erroneous idea of my father’s character, from the importance which I recollected I maintained with him and his whole family before I went to France. I was not aware, that there are men who indulge their children at an early age, because to do so interests and amuses them, and who can yet be sufficiently severe when the same children cross their expectations at a more advanced period. On the contrary, I persuaded myself that all I had to apprehend, was some temporary alienation of affection;—perhaps a rustication of a few weeks, which I thought would rather please me than otherwise, since it would give me an opportunity of setting about my unfinished version of Orlando Furioso, a poem which I longed to render into English verse. I suffered this belief to get such absolute possession of my mind, that I had resumed my blotted papers, and was busy in meditation on the oft-recurring rhymes of the Spenserian stanza, when I heard a low and cautious tap at the door of my apartment. “Come in,” I said, and Mr. Owen entered. So regular were the motions and habits of this worthy man, that in all probability this was the first time he had ever been in the second story of his patron’s house, however conversant with the first; and I am still at a loss to know in what manner he discovered my apartment.
“Mr. Francis,” he said, interrupting my expressions of surprise and pleasure at seeing him, “I do not know if I am doing well in what I am about to say—it is not right to speak of what passes in the compting-house out of doors—one should not tell, as they say, to the post in the warehouse, how many lines there are in the ledger. But young Twineall has been absent from the house for a fortnight and more, until two days since.”
“Very well, my dear sir, and how does that concern us?”
“Stay, Mr. Francis—your father gave him a private commission; and I am sure he did not go down to Falmouth about the pilchard affair; and the Exeter business with Blackwell and company has been settled; and the mining people in Cornwall, Trevanion and Treguilliam, have paid all they are likely to pay; and any other matter of business must have been put through my books:—in short, it’s my faithful belief that Twineall has been down in the north.”
“Do you really suppose so?” said I, somewhat startled.
“He has spoken about nothing, sir, since he returned, but his new boots, and his Rippon spurs, and a cock-fight at York—it’s as true as the multiplication-table. Do, Heaven bless you, my dear child, make up your mind to please your father, and to be a man and a merchant at once.”
I felt at that instant a strong inclination to submit, and to make Owen happy by requesting him to tell my father, that I resigned myself to his disposal. But pride—pride, the source of so much that is good and so much that is evil in our course of life, prevented me. My acquiescence stuck in my throat; and while I was coughing to get it up, my father’s voice summoned Owen. He hastily left the room, and the opportunity was lost.
My father was methodical in every thing. At the very same time of the day, in the same apartment, and with the same tone and manner which he had employed an exact month before, he recapitulated the proposal he had made for taking me into partnership, and assigning me a department in the counting-house, and requested to have my final decision. I thought at the time there was something unkind in this; and I still think that my father’s conduct was injudicious. A more conciliatory treatment would, in all probability, have gained his purpose. As it was, I stood fast, and, as respectfully as I could, declined the proposal he made to me. Perhaps,—for who can judge of their own heart?—I felt it unmanly to yield on the first summons, and expected farther solicitation, as at least a pretext for changing my mind. If so, I was disappointed; for my father turned coolly to Owen, and only said, “You see it is as I told you.—Well, Frank,” (addressing me,) “you are nearly of age, and as well qualified to judge of what will constitute your own happiness as you ever are like to be; therefore, I say no more. But as I am not bound to give in to your plans, any more than you are compelled to submit to mine, may I ask to know if you have formed any which depend on my assistance?”
I answered, not a little abashed, “That being bred to no profession, and having no funds of my own, it was obviously impossible for me to subsist without some allowance from my father; that my wishes were very moderate; and that I hoped my aversion for the profession to which he had designed me, would not occasion his altogether withdrawing his paternal support and protection.”
“That is to say, you wish to lean on my arm, and yet to walk your own way? That can hardly be, Frank;—however, I suppose you mean to obey my directions, so far as they do not cross your own humor?”
I was about to speak—“Silence, if you please,” he continued. “Supposing this to be the case, you will instantly set out for the North of England, to pay your uncle a visit, and see the state of his family. I have chosen from among his sons (he has six, I believe) one who, I understand, is most worthy to fill the place I intended for you in the counting-house. But some farther arrangements may be necessary, and for these your presence may be requisite. You shall have farther instructions at Osbaldistone Hall, where you will please to remain until you hear from me. Every thing will be ready for your departure to-morrow morning.”
With these words my father left the apartment.
“What does all this mean, Mr. Owen?” said I to my sympathetic friend, whose countenance wore a cast of the deepest dejection.
“You have ruined yourself, Mr. Frank, that’s all; when your father talks in that quiet determined manner, there will be no more change in him than in a fitted account.”
And so it proved; for the next morning, at five o’clock, I found myself on the road to York, mounted on a reasonably good horse, and with fifty guineas in my pocket; traveling, as it would seem, for the purpose of assisting in the adoption of a successor to myself in my father’s house and favor, and, for aught I knew, eventually in his fortune also.
The slack sail shifts from side to side,
The boat, untrimm’d, admits the tide,
Borne down, adrift, at random tost,
The oar breaks short, the rudder’s lost.
I HAVE tagged with rhyme and blank verse the subdivisions of this important narrative, in order to seduce your continued attention by powers of composition of stronger attraction than my own. The preceding lines refer to an unfortunate navigator, who daringly unloosed from its moorings a boat, which he was unable to manage, and thrust it off into the full tide of a navigable river. No schoolboy, who, betwixt frolic and defiance, has executed a similar rash attempt, could feel himself, when adrift in a strong current, in a situation more awkward than mine, when I found myself driving, without a compass, on the ocean of human life. There had been such unexpected ease in the manner in which my father slipped a knot, usually esteemed the strongest which binds society together, and suffered me to depart as a sort of outcast from his family, that it strangely lessened the confidence in my own personal accomplishments, which had hitherto sustained me. Prince Prettyman, now a prince, and now a fisher’s son, had not a more awkward sense of his degradation. We are so apt, in our engrossing egotism, to consider all those accessories which are drawn around us by prosperity, as pertaining and belonging to our own persons, that the discovery of our unimportance, when left to our own proper resources, becomes inexpressibly mortifying. As the hum of London died away on my ear, the distant peal of her steeples more than once sounded to my ears the admonitory “Turn again,” erst heard by her future Lord Mayor; and when I looked back from Highgate on her dusky magnificence, I felt as if I were leaving behind me comfort, opulence, the charms of society, and all the pleasures of cultivated life.
But the die was cast. It was, indeed, by no means probable that a late and ungracious compliance with my father’s wishes would have reinstated me in the situation which I had lost. On the contrary, firm and strong of purpose as he himself was, he might rather have been disgusted than conciliated by my tardy and compulsory acquiescence in his desire that I should engage in commerce. My constitutional obstinacy came also to my aid, and pride whispered how poor a figure I should make, when an airing of four miles from London had blown away resolutions formed during a month’s serious deliberation. Hope, too, that never forsakes the young and hardy, lent her luster to my future prospects. My father could not be serious in the sentence of foris-familiation, which he had so unhesitatingly pronounced. It must be but a trial of my disposition, which, endured with patience and steadiness on my part, would raise me in his estimation, and lead to an amicable accommodation of the point in dispute between us. I even settled in my own mind how far I would concede to him, and on what articles of our supposed treaty I would make a firm stand; and the result was, according to my computation, that I was to be reinstated in my full rights of filiation, paying the easy penalty of some ostensible compliances to atone for my past rebellion.
In the meanwhile, I was lord of my person, and experienced that feeling of independence which the youthful bosom receives with a thrilling mixture of pleasure and apprehension. My purse, though by no means amply replenished, was in a situation to supply all the wants and wishes of a traveler. I had been accustomed, while at Bordeaux, to act as my own valet; my horse was fresh, young, and active, and the buoyancy of my spirits soon surmounted the melancholy reflections with which my journey commenced.
I should have been glad to have journeyed upon a line of road better calculated to afford reasonable objects of curiosity, or a more interesting country to the traveler. But the north road was then, and perhaps still is, singularly deficient in these respects; nor do I believe you can travel so far through Britain in any other direction without meeting more of what is worthy to engage the attention. My mental ruminations, notwithstanding my assumed confidence, were not always of an uncheckered nature. The Muse too,—the very coquette who had led me into this wilderness,—like others of her sex, deserted me in my utmost need; and I should have been reduced to rather an uncomfortable state of dullness, had it not been for the occasional conversation of strangers who chanced to pass the same way. But the characters whom I met with were of a uniform and uninteresting description. Country parsons, jogging homewards after a visitation; farmers, or graziers, returning from a distant market; clerks of traders, traveling to collect what was due to their masters in provincial towns; with now and then an officer going down into the country upon the recruiting service, were, at this period, the persons by whom the turnpikes and tapsters were kept in exercise. Our speech, therefore, was of tithes and creeds, of beeves and grain, of commodities wet and dry, and the solvency of the retail dealers, occasionally varied by the description of a siege, or battle, in Flanders, which, perhaps, the narrator only gave me at second hand. Robbers, a fertile and alarming theme, filled up every vacancy; and the names of the Golden Farmer, the Flying Highwayman, Jack Needham, and other Beggar’s Opera heroes, were familiar in our mouths as household words. At such tales, like children closing their circle round the fire when the ghost story draws to its climax, the riders drew near to each other, looked before and behind them, examined the priming of their pistols, and vowed to stand by each other in case of danger; an engagement which, like other offensive and defensive alliances, sometimes glided out of remembrance when there was an appearance of actual peril.
Of all the fellows whom I ever saw haunted by terrors of this nature, one poor man, with whom I traveled a day and a half, afforded me most amusement. He had upon his pillion a very small, but apparently a very weighty portmanteau, about the safety of which he seemed particularly solicitous; never trusting it out of his own immediate care, and uniformly repressing the officious zeal of the waiters and ostlers, who offered their services to carry it into the house. With the same precaution he labored to conceal, not only the purpose of his journey, and his ultimate place of destination, but even the direction of each day’s route. Nothing embarrassed him more than to be asked by any one whether he was traveling upward or downward, or at what stage he intended to bait. His place of rest for the night he scrutinized with the most anxious care, alike avoiding solitude, and what he considered as bad neighborhood; and at Grantham, I believe, he sate up all night to avoid sleeping in the next room to a thick-set squinting fellow, in a black wig, and a tarnished gold-laced waistcoat. With all these cares on his mind, my fellow traveler, to judge by his thews and sinews, was a man who might have set danger at defiance with as much impunity as most men. He was strong, and well-built; and, judging from his gold-laced hat and cockade, seemed to have served in the army, or, at least, to belong to the military profession in one capacity or other. His conversation also, although always sufficiently vulgar, was that of a man of sense when the terrible bugbears which haunted his imagination for a moment ceased to occupy his attention. But every accidental association recalled them. An open heath, a close plantation, were alike subjects of apprehension; and the whistle of a shepherd lad was instantly converted into the signal of a depredator. Even the sight of a gibbet, if it assured him that one robber was safely disposed of by justice, never failed to remind him how many remained still unhanged.
I should have wearied of this fellow’s company, had I not been still more tired of my own thoughts. Some of the marvelous stories, however, which he related, had in themselves a cast of interest, and another whimsical point of his peculiarities afforded me the occasional opportunity of amusing myself at his expense. Among his tales, several of the unfortunate travelers who fell among thieves, incurred that calamity from associating themselves on the road with a well-dressed and entertaining stranger, in whose company they trusted to find protection as well as amusement; who cheered their journey with tale and song, protected them against the evils of overcharges and false reckonings, until at length, under pretext of showing a near path over a desolate common, he seduced his unsuspicious victims from the public road into some dismal glen, where, suddenly blowing his whistle, he assembled his comrades from their lurking-place, and displayed himself in his true colors, the captain, namely, of the band of robbers to whom his unwary fellow-travelers had forfeited their purses, and perhaps their lives. Toward the conclusion of such a tale, and when my companion had wrought himself into a fever of apprehension by the progress of his own narrative, I observed that he usually eyed me with a glance of doubt and suspicion, as if the possibility occurred to him, that he might, at that very moment, be in company with a character as dangerous as that which his tale described. And ever and anon, when such suggestions pressed themselves on the mind of this ingenious self-tormentor, he drew off from me to the opposite side of the high road, looked before, behind, and around him, examined his arms, and seemed to prepare himself for flight or defense, as circumstances might require.
The suspicion implied on such occasions seemed to me only momentary, and too ludicrous to be offensive. There was, in fact, no particular reflection on my dress or address, although I was thus mistaken for a robber. A man in those days might have all the external appearance of a gentleman, and yet turn out to be a highwayman. For the division of labor in every department not having then taken place so fully as since that period, the profession of the polite and accomplished adventurer, who nicked you out of your money at White’s, or bowled you out of it at Marybone, was often united with that of the professed ruffian, who, on Bagshot Heath, or Finchley Common, commanded his brother beau to stand and deliver. There was also a touch of coarseness and hardness about the manners of the times, which has since, in a great degree, been softened and shaded away. It seems to me, on recollection, as if desperate men had less reluctance then, than now, to embrace the most desperate means of retrieving their fortune. The times were indeed past, when Anthony-a-Wood mourned over the execution of two men, goodly in person, and of undisputed courage and honor, who were hanged without mercy at Oxford, merely because their distress had driven them to raise contributions on the highway. We were still farther removed from the days of “the mad Prince and Poins.” And yet, from the number of unenclosed and extensive heaths in the vicinity of the metropolis, and from the less populous state of remote districts, both were frequented by that species of mounted highwaymen, that may possibly become one day unknown, who carried on their trade with something like courtesy; and, like Gibbet in the Beaux Stratagem, piqued themselves on being the best behaved men on the road, and on conducting themselves with all appropriate civility in the exercise of their vocation. A young man, therefore, in my circumstances, was not entitled to be highly indignant at the mistake which confounded him with this worshipful class of depredators.
Neither was I offended. On the contrary, I found amusement in alternately exciting, and lulling to sleep, the suspicions of my timorous companion, and in purposely so acting as still farther to puzzle a brain which nature and apprehension had combined to render none of the clearest. When my free conversation had lulled him into complete security, it required only a passing inquiry concerning the direction of his journey, or the nature of the business which occasioned it, to put his suspicions once more in arms. For example, a conversation on the comparative strength and activity of our horses took such a turn as follows:—
“O sir,” said my companion, “for the gallop, I grant you; but allow me to say, your horse (although he is a very handsome gelding—that must be owned) has too little bone to be a good roadster. The trot, sir,” (striking his Bucephalus with his spurs,) “the trot is the true pace for a hackney; and, were we near a town, I should like to try that daisy-cutter of yours upon a piece of level road (barring canter) for a quart of claret at the next inn.”
“Content, sir,” replied I; “and here is a stretch of ground very favorable.”
“Hem, ahem,” answered my friend with hesitation; “I make it a rule of traveling never to blow my horse between stages; one never knows what occasion he may have to put him to his mettle: and besides, sir, when I said I would match you, I meant with even weight; you ride four stone lighter than I.”
“Very well; but I am content to carry weight. Pray what may that portmanteau of yours weigh?”
“My p—p—portmanteau?” replied he hesitating—“O very little—a feather—just a few shirts and stockings.”
“I should think it heavier, from its appearance. I’ll hold you the quart of claret it makes the odds betwixt our weight.”
“You’re mistaken, sir, I assure you—quite mistaken,” replied my friend, edging off to the side of the road, as was his wont on these alarming occasions.
“Well, I’m willing to venture the wine; or, I will bet you ten pieces to five, that I carry your portmanteau on my croupe, and out-trot you into the bargain.”
This proposal raised my friend’s alarm to the uttermost. His nose changed from the natural copper hue which it had acquired from many a comfortable cup of claret, or sack, into a palish brassy tint, and his teeth chattered with apprehension at the unveiled audacity of my proposal, which seemed to place the bare-faced plunderer before him in full atrocity. As he faltered for an answer, I relieved him in some degree by a question concerning a steeple, which now became visible, and an observation that we were now so near the village as to run no risk from interruption on the road. At this his countenance cleared up: but I easily perceived that it was long ere he forgot a proposal which seemed to him so fraught with suspicion as that which I had now hazarded. I trouble you with this detail of the man’s disposition, and the manner in which I practiced upon it, because, however trivial in themselves, these particulars were attended by an important influence on future incidents which will incur in this narrative. At the time, this person’s conduct only inspired me with contempt, and confirmed me in an opinion, which I already entertained, that of all the propensities which teach mankind to torment themselves, that of causeless fear is the most irritating, busy, painful, and pitiable.
The Scots are poor, cries surly English pride.
True is the charge; nor by themselves denied.
Are they not, then, in strictest reason clear,
Who wisely come to mend their fortunes here?
THERE WAS, in the days of which I write, an old-fashioned custom on the English road, which I suspect is now obsolete, or practiced only by the vulgar. Journeys of length being made on horseback, and, of course, by brief stages, it was usual always to make a halt on the Sunday in some town where the traveler might attend divine service, and his horse have the benefit of the day of rest, the institution of which is as humane to our brute laborers as profitable to ourselves. A counterpart to this decent practice, and a remnant of old English hospitality, was, that the landlord of a principal inn laid aside his character of publican on the seventh day, and invited the guests who chanced to be within his walls to take a part of his family beef and pudding. This invitation was usually complied with by all whose distinguished rank did not induce them to think compliance a derogation; and the proposal of a bottle of wine after dinner to drink the landlord’s health was the only recompense ever offered or accepted.
I was born a citizen of the world, and my inclination led me into all scenes where my knowledge of mankind could be enlarged; I had, besides, no pretensions to sequester myself on the score of superior dignity, and therefore seldom failed to accept of the Sunday’s hospitality of mine host, whether of the Garter, Lion, or Bear. The honest publican, dilated into additional consequence by a sense of his own importance, while presiding among the guests on whom it was his ordinary duty to attend, was in himself an entertaining spectacle; and around his genial orbit, other planets of inferior consequence performed their revolutions. The wits and humorists, the distinguished worthies of the town or village, the apothecary, the attorney, even the curate himself, did not disdain to partake of this hebdomadal festivity. The guests, assembled from different quarters, and following different professions, formed, in language, manners, and sentiments, a curious contrast to each other, not indifferent to those who desired to possess a knowledge of mankind in its varieties.
It was on such a day, and such an occasion, that my timorous acquaintance and I were about to grace the board of the ruddy-faced host of the Black Bear, in the town of Darlington, and bishopric of Durham, when our landlord informed us, with a sort of apologetic tone, that there was a Scotch gentleman to dine with us.
“A gentleman?—what sort of a gentleman?” said my companion, somewhat hastily, his mind, I suppose, running on gentlemen of the pad, as they were then termed.
“Why, a Scotch sort of a gentleman, as I said before,” returned mine host; “they are all gentle, ye mun know, though they ha’ narra shirt to back; but this is a decentish hallion—a canny North Briton as e’er cross’d Berwick bridge—I trow he’s a dealer in cattle.”
“Let us have his company, by all means,” answered my companion; and then, turning to me, he gave vent to the tenor of his own reflections. “I respect the Scotch, sir; I love and honor the nation for their sense of morality. Men talk of their filth and their poverty: but commend me to sterling honesty, though clad in rags, as the poet saith. I have been credibly assured, sir, by men on whom I can depend, that there was never known such a thing in Scotland as a highway robbery.”
“That’s because they have nothing to lose,” said mine host, with the chuckle of a self-applauding wit.
“No, no, landlord,” answered a strong deep voice behind him, “it’s e’en because your English gaugers and supervisors,* that you have sent down benorth the Tweed, have taen up the trade of thievery over the heads of the native professors.”
“Well said, Mr. Campbell!” answered the landlord; “I did nat think thoud’st been sae near us, mon. But thou kens I’m an outspoken Yorkshire tyke—And how go markets in the south?”
“Even in the ordinar,” replied Mr. Campbell; “wise folks buy and sell, and fools are bought and sold.”
“But wise men and fools both eat their dinner,” answered our jolly entertainer; “and here a comes—as prime a buttock of beef as e’er hungry mon stuck fork in.”
So saying, he eagerly whetted his knife, assumed his seat of empire at the head of the board, and loaded the plates of his sundry guests with his good cheer.
This was the first time I had heard the Scottish accent, or, indeed, that I had familiarly met with an individual of the ancient nation by whom it was spoken. Yet, from an early period, they had occupied and interested my imagination. My father, as is well known to you, was of an ancient family in Northumberland, from whose seat I was, while eating the aforesaid dinner, not very many miles distant. The quarrel betwixt him and his relatives was such, that he scarcely ever mentioned the race from which he sprung, and held as the most contemptible species of vanity, the weakness which is commonly termed family pride. His ambition was only to be distinguished as William Osbaldistone, the first, at least one of the first, merchants on Change; and to have proved him the lineal representative of William the Conqueror, would have far less flattered his vanity than the hum and bustle which his approach was wont to produce among the bulls, bears, and brokers of Stock-alley. He wished, no doubt, that I should remain in such ignorance of my relatives and descent as might insure a correspondence between my feelings and his own on this subject. But his designs, as will happen occasionally to the wisest, were, in some degree at least, counteracted by a being whom his pride would never have supposed of importance adequate to influence them in any way. His nurse, an old Northumbrian woman, attached to him from his infancy, was the only person connected with his native province for whom he retained any regard; and when fortune dawned upon him, one of the first uses which he made of her favors, was to give Mabel Rickets a place of residence within his household. After the death of my mother, the care of nursing me during my childish illnesses, and of rendering all those tender attentions which infancy exacts from female affection, devolved on old Mabel. Interdicted by her master from speaking to him on the subject of the heaths, glades, and dales of her beloved Northumberland, she poured herself forth to my infant ear in descriptions of the scenes of her youth, and long narratives of the events which tradition declared to have passed amongst them. To these I inclined my ear much more seriously than to graver, but less animated instructors. Even yet, methinks I see old Mabel, her head slightly agitated by the palsy of age, and shaded by a close cap, as white as the driven snow,—her face wrinkled, but still retaining the healthy tinge which it had acquired in rural labor,—I think I see her look around on the brick walls and narrow street which presented themselves from our windows, as she concluded with a sigh the favorite old ditty, which I then preferred, and—why should I not tell the truth?—which I still prefer to all the opera airs ever minted by the capricious brain of an Italian Mus. D.—
Oh, the oak, the ash, and the bonny ivy tree,
They flourish best at home in the North Countrie!
Now, in the legends of Mabel, the Scottish nation was ever freshly remembered, with all the embittered declamation of which the narrator was capable. The inhabitants of the opposite frontier served in her narratives to fill up the parts which ogres and giants with seven-leagued boots occupy in the ordinary nursery tales. And how could it be otherwise? Was it not the Black Douglas who slew with his own hand the heir of the Osbaldistone family the day after he took possession of his estate, surprising him and his vassals while solemnizing a feast suited to the occasion? Was it not Wat the Devil who drove all the year-old hogs off the braes of Lanthornside, in the very recent days of my grandfather’s father? And had we not many a trophy, but, according to old Mabel’s version of history, far more honorably gained, to mark our revenge of these wrongs? Did not Sir Henry Osbaldistone, fifth baron of the name, carry off the fair maid of Fairnington, as Achilles did his Chryseis and Briseis of old, and detain her in his fortress against all the power of her friends, supported by the most mighty Scottish chiefs of warlike fame? And had not our swords shone foremost at most of those fields in which England was victorious over her rival? All our family renown was acquired,—all our family misfortunes were occasioned,—by the northern wars.
Warmed by such tales, I looked upon the Scottish people during my childhood, as a race hostile by nature to the more southern inhabitants of this realm; and this view of the matter was not much corrected by the language which my father sometimes held with respect to them. He had engaged in some large speculations concerning oak-woods, the property of Highland proprietors, and alleged, that he found them much more ready to make bargains, and extort earnest of the purchase-money, than punctual in complying on their side with the terms of the engagements. The Scotch mercantile men, whom he was under the necessity of employing as a sort of middle-men on these occasions, were also suspected by my father of having secured, by one means or other, more than their own share of the profit which ought to have accrued. In short, if Mabel complained of the Scottish arms in ancient times, Mr. Osbaldistone inveighed no less against the arts of these modern Sinons; and between them, though without any fixed purpose of doing so, they impressed my youthful mind with a sincere aversion to the northern inhabitants of Britain, as a people bloodthirsty in time of war, treacherous during truce, interested, selfish, avaricious, and tricky in the business of peaceful life, and having few good qualities, unless there should be accounted such, a ferocity which resembled courage in martial affairs, and a sort of wily craft, which supplied the place of wisdom in the ordinary commerce of mankind. In justification, or apology, for those who entertained such prejudices, I must remark, that the Scotch of that period were guilty of similar injustice to the English, whom they branded universally as a race of purse-proud arrogant epicures. Such seeds of national dislike remained between the two countries, the natural consequences of their existence as separate and rival states. We have seen recently the breath of a demagogue blow these sparks into a temporary flame, which I sincerely hope is now extinguished in its own ashes.*
It was, then, with an impression of dislike, that I contemplated the first Scotchman I chanced to meet in society. There was much about him that coincided with my previous conceptions. He had the hard features and athletic form, said to be peculiar to his country, together with the national intonation and slow pedantic mode of expression, arising from a desire to avoid peculiarities of idiom or dialect. I could also observe the caution and shrewdness of his country in many of the observations which he made, and the answers which he returned. But I was not prepared for the air of easy self-possession and superiority, with which he seemed to predominate over the company into which he was thrown, as it were by accident. His dress was as coarse as it could be, being still decent; and, at a time when great expense was lavished upon the wardrobe, even of the lowest who pretended to the character of gentlemen, this indicated mediocrity of circumstances, if not poverty. His conversation intimated, that he was engaged in the cattle-trade, no very dignified professional pursuit. And yet, under these disadvantages, he seemed, as a matter of course, to treat the rest of the company with the cool and condescending politeness, which implies a real, or imagined, superiority over those toward whom it is used. When he gave his opinion on any point, it was with that easy tone of confidence used by those superior to their society in rank or information, as if what he said could not be doubted, and was not to be questioned. Mine host and his Sunday guests, after an effort or two to support their consequence by noise and bold averment, sunk gradually under the authority of Mr. Campbell, who thus fairly possessed himself of the lead in the conversation. I was tempted from curiosity, to dispute the ground with him myself, confiding in my knowledge of the world, extended as it was by my residence abroad, and in the stores with which a tolerable education had possessed my mind. In the latter respect, he offered no competition, and it was easy to see that his natural powers had never been cultivated by education. But I found him much better acquainted than I was myself with the present state of France, the character of the Duke of Orleans, who had just succeeded to the regency of that kingdom, and that of the statesmen by whom he was surrounded; and his shrewd, caustic, and somewhat satirical remarks, were those of a man who had been a close observer of the affairs of that country.
On the subject of politics, Campbell observed a silence and moderation which might arise from caution. The divisions of Whig and Tory then shook England to her very center, and a powerful party, engaged in the Jacobite interest, menaced the dynasty of Hanover, which had been just established on the throne. Every alehouse resounded with the brawls of contending politicians, and as mine host’s politics were of that liberal description which quarrelled with no good customer, his hebdomadal visitants were often divided in their opinion as irreconcilably as if he had feasted the Common Council. The curate and the apothecary, with a little man, who made no boast of his vocation, but who, from the flourish and snap of his fingers, I believe to have been the barber, strongly espoused the cause of high church and the Stewart line. The exciseman, as in duty bound, and the attorney, who looked to some petty office under the Crown, together with my fellow-traveler, who seemed to enter keenly into the contest, staunchly supported the cause of King George and the Protestant succession. Dire was the screaming—deep the oaths! Each party appealed to Mr. Campbell, anxious, it seemed, to elicit his approbation.
“You are a Scotchman, sir; a gentleman of your country must stand up for hereditary right,” cried one party.
“You are a presbyterian,” assumed the other class of disputants; “you cannot be a friend to arbitrary power.”
“Gentlemen,” said our Scotch oracle, after having gained, with some difficulty, a moment’s pause, “I havena much dubitation that King George weel deserves the predilection of his friends; and if he can haud the grip he has gotten, why, doubtless, he may make the gauger, here, a commissioner of the revenue, and confer on our friend, Mr. Quitam, the preferment of solicitor general; and he may also grant some good deed or reward to this honest gentleman who is sitting upon his portmanteau, which he prefers to a chair: And, questionless, King James is also a grateful person, and when he gets his hand in play, he may, if he be so minded, make this reverend gentleman archprelate of Canterbury, and Dr. Mixit chief physician to his household, and commit his royal beard to the care of my friend Latherum. But as I doubt mickle whether any of the competing sovereigns would give Rob Campbell a tass of aquavitae, if he lacked it, I give my vote and interest to Jonathan Brown, our landlord, to be the King and Prince of Skinkers, conditionally that he fetches us another bottle as good as the last.”
This sally was received with general applause, in which the landlord cordially joined; and when he had given orders for fulfilling the condition on which his preferment was to depend, he failed not to acquaint them, “that, for as peaceable a gentleman as Mr. Campbell was, he was, moreover, as bold as a lion—seven highwaymen had he defeated with his single arm, that beset him as he came from Whitson-Tryste.”
“Thou art deceived, friend Jonathan,” said Campbell, interrupting him; “they were but barely two, and two cowardly loons as man could wish to meet withal.”
“And did you, sir, really,” said my fellow-traveler, edging his chair (I should have said his portmanteau) nearer to Mr. Campbell, “really and actually beat two highwaymen yourself alone?”
“In troth did I, sir,” replied Campbell; “and I think it nae great thing to make a sang about.”
“Upon my word, sir,” replied my acquaintance, “I should be happy to have the pleasure of your company on my journey—I go northward, sir.”
This piece of gratuitous information concerning the route he proposed to himself, the first I had heard my companion bestow upon any one, failed to excite the corresponding confidence of the Scotchman.
“We can scarce travel together,” he replied, dryly. “You, sir, doubtless, are well mounted, and I, for the present, travel on foot, or on a Highland shelty, that does not help me much faster forward.”
So saying, he called for a reckoning for the wine, and throwing down the price of the additional bottle which he had himself introduced, rose as if to take leave of us. My companion made up to him, and taking him by the button, drew him aside into one of the windows. I could not help overhearing him pressing something;—I suppose his company upon the journey, which Mr. Campbell seemed to decline.
“I will pay your charges, sir,” said the traveler, in a tone as if he thought the argument should bear down all opposition.
“It is quite impossible,” said Campbell, somewhat contemptuously; “I have business at Rothbury.”
“But I am in no great hurry; I can ride out of the way, and never miss a day or so for good company.”
“Upon my faith, sir,” said Campbell, “I cannot render you the service you seem to desiderate. I am,” he added, drawing himself up haughtily, “traveling on my own private affairs, and if ye will act by my advisement, sir, ye will neither unite yourself with an absolute stranger on the road, nor communicate your line of journey to those who are asking ye no questions about it.” He then extricated his button, not very ceremoniously, from the hold which detained him, and, coming up to me as the company were dispersing, observed, “Your friend, sir, is too communicative, considering the nature of his trust.”
“That gentleman,” I replied, looking toward the traveler, “is no friend of mine, but an acquaintance whom I picked up on the road. I know neither his name nor business, and you seem to be deeper in his confidence than I am.”
“I only meant,” he replied hastily, “that he seems a thought rash in conferring the honor of his company on those who desire it not.”
“The gentleman,” replied I, “knows his own affairs best, and I should be sorry to constitute myself a judge of them in any respect.”
Mr. Campbell made no farther observation, but merely wished me a good journey, and the party dispersed for the evening.
Next day I parted company with my timid companion, as I left the great northern road to turn more westerly in the direction of Osbaldistone Manor, my uncle’s seat. I cannot tell whether he felt relieved or embarrassed by my departure, considering the dubious light in which he seemed to regard me. For my own part, his tremors ceased to amuse me, and, to say the truth, I was heartily glad to get rid of him.
How melts my beating heart, as I behold
Each lovely nymph, our island’s boast and pride,
Push on the generous steed, that sweeps along
O’er rough, o’er smooth, nor heeds the steepy hill,
Nor falters in the extended vale below!
I APPROACHED my native north, for such I esteemed it, with that enthusiasm which romantic and wild scenery inspires in the lovers of nature. No longer interrupted by the babble of my companion, I could now remark the difference which the country exhibited from that through which I had hitherto traveled. The streams now more properly deserved the name, for, instead of slumbering stagnant among reeds and willows, they brawled along beneath the shade of natural copsewood; were now hurried down declivities, and now purled more leisurely, but still in active motion, through little lonely valleys, which, opening on the road from time to time, seemed to invite the traveler to explore their recesses. The Cheviots rose before me in frowning majesty; not, indeed, with the sublime variety of rock and cliff which characterizes mountains of the primary class, but huge, round-headed, and clothed with a dark robe of russet, gaining, by their extent and desolate appearance, an influence upon the imagination, as a desert district possessing a character of its own.
The abode of my fathers, which I was now approaching, was situated in a glen, or narrow valley, which ran up among those hills. Extensive estates, which once belonged to the family of Osbaldistone, had been long dissipated by the misfortunes or misconduct of my ancestors; but enough was still attached to the old mansion, to give my uncle the title of a man of large property. This he employed (as I was given to understand by some inquiries which I made on the road) in maintaining the prodigal hospitality of a northern squire of the period, which he deemed essential to his family dignity.
From the summit of an eminence, I had already had a distant view of Osbaldistone Hall, a large and antiquated edifice, peeping out from a Druidical grove of huge oaks; and I was directing my course toward it, as straightly and as speedily as the windings of a very indifferent road would permit, when my horse, tired as he was, pricked up his ears at the enlivening notes of a pack of hounds in full cry, cheered by the occasional bursts of a French horn, which in those days was a constant accompaniment to the chase. I made no doubt that the pack was my uncle’s, and drew up my horse with the purpose of suffering the hunters to pass without notice, aware that a hunting-field was not the proper scene to introduce myself to a keen sportsman, and determined, when they had passed on, to proceed to the mansion-house at my own pace, and there to await the return of the proprietor from his sport. I paused, therefore, on a rising ground, and, not unmoved by the sense of interest which that species of silvan sport is so much calculated to inspire, (although my mind was not at the moment very accessible to impressions of this nature,) I expected with some eagerness the appearance of the huntsmen.
The fox, hard run, and nearly spent, first made his appearance from the copse which clothed the right-hand side of the valley. His drooping brush, his soiled appearance, and jaded trot, proclaimed his fate impending; and the carrion crow, which hovered over him, already considered poor Reynard as soon to be his prey. He crossed the stream which divides the little valley, and was dragging himself up a ravine on the other side of its wild banks, when the headmost hounds, followed by the rest of the pack in full cry, burst from the coppice, followed by the huntsman, and three or four riders. The dogs pursued the trace of Reynard with unerring instinct; and the hunters followed with reckless haste, regardless of the broken and difficult nature of the ground. They were tall, stout young men, well mounted, and dressed in green and red, the uniform of a sporting association, formed under the auspices of old Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone. My cousins! thought I, as they swept past me. The next reflection was, what is my reception likely to be among these worthy successors of Nimrod? and how improbable is it, that I, knowing little or nothing of rural sports, shall find myself at ease, or happy, in my uncle’s family? A vision that passed me interrupted these reflections.
It was a young lady, the loveliness of whose very striking features was enhanced by the animation of the chase and the glow of the exercise, mounted on a beautiful horse, jet black, unless where he was flecked by spots of the snow-white foam which embossed his bridle. She wore, what was then somewhat unusual, a coat, vest, and hat, resembling those of a man, which fashion has since called a riding-habit. The mode had been introduced while I was in France, and was perfectly new to me. Her long black hair streamed on the breeze, having in the hurry of the chase escaped from the ribbon which bound it. Some very broken ground, through which she guided her horse with the most admirable address and presence of mind, retarded her course, and brought her closer to me than any of the other riders had passed. I had, therefore, a full view of her uncommonly fine face and person, to which an inexpressible charm was added by the wild gaiety of the scene, and the romance of her singular dress and unexpected appearance. As she passed me, her horse made, in his impetuosity, an irregular movement, just while, coming once more upon open ground, she was again putting him to his speed. It served as an apology for me to ride close up to her, as if to her assistance. There was, however, no cause for alarm; it was not a stumble, nor a false step; and, if it had, the fair Amazon had too much self-possession to have been deranged by it. She thanked my good intentions, however, by a smile, and I felt encouraged to put my horse to the same pace, and to keep in her immediate neighborhood. The clamor of “Whoop, dead, dead!” and the corresponding flourish of the French horn, soon announced to us that there was no more occasion for haste, as the chase was at a close. One of the young men whom we had seen approached us, waving the brush of the fox in triumph, as if to upbraid my fair companion.
“I see,” she replied,—“I see; but make no noise about it; if Phœbe,” she said, patting the neck of the beautiful animal on which she rode, “had not got among the cliffs, you would have had little cause for boasting.”
They met as she spoke, and I observed them both look at me and converse a moment in an undertone, the young lady apparently pressing the sportsman to do something which he declined shyly, and with a sort of sheepish sullenness. She instantly turned her horse’s head toward me, saying,—“Well, well, Thornie, if you won’t, I must, that’s all.—Sir,” she continued, addressing me, “I have been endeavoring to persuade this cultivated young gentleman to make inquiry of you, whether, in the course of your travels in these parts, you have heard any thing of a friend of ours, one Mr. Francis Osbaldistone, who has been for some days expected at Osbaldistone Hall?”
I was too happy to acknowledge myself to be the party inquired after, and to express my thanks for the obliging inquiries of the young lady.
“In that case, sir,” she rejoined, “as my kinsman’s politeness seems to be still slumbering, you will permit me (though I suppose it is highly improper) to stand mistress of ceremonies, and to present to you young Squire Thorncliff Osbaldistone, your cousin, and Die Vernon, who has also the honor to be your accomplished cousin’s poor kinswoman.”
There was a mixture of boldness, satire, and simplicity in the manner in which Miss Vernon pronounced these words. My knowledge of life was sufficient to enable me to take up a corresponding tone as I expressed my gratitude to her for her condescension, and my extreme pleasure at having met with them. To say the truth, the compliment was so expressed, that the lady might easily appropriate the greater share of it, for Thorncliff seemed an arrant country bumpkin, awkward, shy, and somewhat sulky withal. He shook hands with me, however, and then intimated his intention of leaving me that he might help the huntsman and his brothers to couple up the hounds, a purpose which he rather communicated by way of information to Miss Vernon than as apology to me.
“There he goes,” said the young lady, following him with eyes in which disdain was admirably painted,—“the prince of grooms and cock-fighters, and blackguard horse-coursers. But there is not one of them to mend another.—Have you read Markham?” said Miss Vernon.