Oat Meal: The War Winner by Grieve, James Ritchie
Transcriber’s Note: This text is reproduced with its original printing errors intact, save for minor amendments to punctuation, capitalisation and word spacing. The author was prone to misquoting poetry, the typesetter was apparently not being paid enough to ensure accuracy, and it doesn’t seem a proofreader was asked to participate at all. The best laid schemes o’ “mince” and men have indeed gone aft agley.
OAT MEAL THE War Winner
BY J. R. Grieve, M. D. Acting Assistant Surgeon U. S. Army, 1865
Copyright Applied for. Price Ten Cents.
BEING GLIMPSES AN REMINISENCES OF SCOTLAND AND ITS PEOPLE.
By J. R. Grieve, M.D.
At the present time when every one is being urged to bend every energy toward the conservation of food supplies, it is surprising to me that so little has been written in behalf of the extraordinary value of oatmeal as a diet on which people can live and continue more healthy than on any other cereal in the world.
I wish to present =facts=, not =theories=. I wish to tell of what I know personally on this subject. I have not consulted any of the laboratories of research or taken for granted any data from the many-published statistics of individual food sufficiency for sustaining life, but I have only taken =facts= and invite my readers to form their own conclusions.
My father was a successful farmer in Perthshire, Scotland, and employed quite a number of ploughmen. His men were always big strapping fellows, weighing on an average from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy pouds and as strong as oxen. None of those men ever saw a two-bushel sack of grain because we never had such sacks. What they were acquainted with and were accustomed to handle were four-bushel sacks of wheat, weighing sixty-four pounds per bushel, barley weighing fifty-six pounds per bushel. These sacks they would carry on their back and load on their carts and, after being hauled to the city, would again shoulder them and carry them up two and sometimes three flights of stairs in the warehouses. There were few elevators in those days.
Now what had those men for breakfast that morning? Certainly not beefsteak, ham and eggs, toast, or biscuits. No, they had a large bowlful of bcrose. Each man takes his large wooden bowl and puts into it three or four handfuls of oatmeal, a big pinch of salt, then pours boiling water on it, stirs it with the handle of his spoon, adds sweet milk, and eats his breakfast. When the noon hour comes he goes through the same process; and after the work is finished for the day he generally has a bowl of oatmeal parridge.
The whole time occupied is probably ten minutes. Then after smoking a pipe for ten minute more he is ready for a day of strenuous work. Each man possesses a half-gallon tin bucket, and that is filled at the dairy every morning before breakfast with sweet milk, and that lasts him for the day. No labor is too hard for those men. They can stand any strain put before them and never complain of being hungry. I never heard the least complaint of indigeston, and the doctor would have starved to death if he had depended on these ploughmen for patients. The allowance of meal is seventy pounds every four weeks, and that is all you require to give them. Often these men don’t see a piece of meat in months and very seldom do they eat wheat bread. Scotland has been called the “Land o’ Cakes” from the fact that an excellent cake can be made of oatmeal. The cakes are rolled thin and toasted before an open fire until they are quite hard. I have eaten oatmeal cakes in Virginia that were baked in Scotland, two or three months previously and after being heated through they were as crisp as if newly baked.
I grew up amid these surroundings and am familiar with every detail. I had my porridge twice a day all through my young life, and the development in my individual case was quite satisfactory. I often tell people that I was brought up on oatmeal and the New Testament, which is true; and I can truthfully testify to the excellency of the combination. Another important fact, especially at the present time, is that we never though of adding sugar to our oatmeal. Those ploughmen would have as soon thought of sprinkling epsom salts on their porridge as sugar. To this day nothing gives me such satisfaction at breakfast as a bowl of oatmeal and milk. To eat a bountiful supply of oatmeal and suppliment it with meat, eggs, etc., is a great mistake. It is too nurtitious and impedes digestion. In those days such terms as calorics, protein, carbohydrates were never used and need never be used when speaking of oatmeal. I ask one question: If oatmeal does tnot contain all the elements of a perfect food, how did those ploughmen stand up to their hard work and seldom complain of hunger and more seldom need the services of the doctor? It regulates the intestinal canal like clock work.
Sweet milk is absolutely necessary to complete the perfect diet. Any substitute, whether molasses, butter, or sugar, does harm. There should be a generous supply of salt in making porridge and that does away with the craving for sugar. I often meet people, doctors included, who declare that porridge ought to be cooked for six or eight hours. My only answer to that falacy is to point to my brosemen. When Oats go to the mill they are put into a kiln and subjected to considerable heat until the hull cracks and they are three-fourths cooked, then they are sifted and ground either coarse or fine as you wish. We had no flaked oats in those days, and I cannot say whether the smashing flat process is an injury or betterment to the cereal; but I prefer the coarse-ground oats, as that was what the men I refer to were fed. I am only stating facts, as I have experienced them, and I stick to my original statement that oatmeal used as the Scotish ploughmen use it is satisfactory in every particular as to giving nourishment and preserving health.
What a saving of time it makes for the housekeeker—just about half an hour for breakfast and supper, few dishes to wash, and no greasy plates to encounter. For dinner you may omit the oats and take what you prefer.
In American hotels and boarding houses, also in private homes, oatmeal is served in small quantities in small saucers as a side dish. It ought to be the =main and only= dish both morning and evening.
Oatmeal has a wonderfully beneficial effect on the morality of men. You might spend an evening, as I have many times done, in those men’s quarters, and you would not hear a profane word or an objectionable sentence from the lips of any one of them. Those men nearly all go to Church on Sunday as regularly as they go to work on Monday. They are intelligent as a rule and demonstrate by their conversation that their diet has nourished the gray matter as well as their muscles.
If oatmeal acted so beneficial fifty years ago on the inhabitants of Scotland, it surely is a good argument that it will perform its duty on Americans just as well to-day.
Personally it would be immaterial to me if the wheat and sugar crops failed entirely, so long as I could have the dear old cereal that nourished me to manhood and the good will of a fine Jersey.
While oatmeal sustains the body and keeps it in fine condition, it certainly must exercise a powerful influence upon the brain. Sir Walter Scott was an oatmeal man. In intellect he was “one of them.” Sir David Brewster, the Royal Astranomer, who could scan with more than eagle’s eye the mighty creations in the bosom of space, was made mostly of oatmeal. Hugh Miller, that huge geological hammer, inscribed with Hebrew characters, was an oatmeal man. So was “Bobby” Burns, and the man does not live who can say that “Bobby” had no brains.
No argument can be brought to bear against oatmeal. If you believe what I say is true, why not put it to the test. I know it is a great problem to change the dietitic habits of a community—and much more so to change the habits of a nation. There are Scotchmen scattered everywhere, and no doubt they and their wives would supervise Oatmeal Clubs to teach the people how to make porridge properly and to overcome any prejudice they might have as to its use. No doubt it is an acquired taste, but when once learned it is for “keeps.”
When I first came to America I did not eat any tomatoes for years. I could not endure the taste, but gradually I took to them, and now I dearly enjoy them.
Many of my friends, through solicitation and my example, have adopted the oatmeal habit, and all of them are delighted with the result and intend to make it permanent.
Just imagine what conversation of food it would be if a vast multitude enlisted under the oatmeal banner. Meatless, wheatless, and surgarless days at least six days in the week for breakfast and supper. For dinner and on Sundays I should allow every one who wished to indulge in the fruit of the hen and the ham of the hog, or whatever delicacy might suit their individual taste.
The Duke of Wellington knew his business when he held in reserve the famous Scot’s Grey cavalry at the battle of Waterloo, until the psycological moment arrived when the French lines began to waver, then ordered the charge which sent them thundering on striking the enemy like an avalanch and thereby winning the battle. So in a modest way I think the psycological moment has arrived when the people of America will listen to what I say and began to cultivate the taste for oatmeal and use it liberally, thereby conserving food for the great emergency now and which will be more acute by and by.
It was oatmeal personified in the kilted Highlanders that scaled the heights of Alma and later stormed the Russian stronghold, Sebastopol. Oatmeal rode in the light brigade at Baladava, “charging an army while all the world wonder.” Oatmeal sang Annie Laurie thirty thousand strong in the Crimean trenches in front of Sebastopol on the eve of the grand assault.
“They lay along the battery’s side Below the smoking cannon, Brave hearts, from Severn and from Clyde And from the banks of Shannon.
They sang of love and not of fame; Forgot was Britain’s glory, Each heart recalled a different name But all sang “Annie Laurie.”
Oatmeal has come out conqueror in many battles in many lands, and who can doubt that it will eventually crush to earth the hated Hohenzolerns and Hapsburgs, to say nothing of the unspeakable Turk.
Bowl of oatmeal porridge. Plenty of sweet milk. That’s All.
Please yourself. That is none of my business.
Bowl of oatmeal porridge. Plenty of sweet milk. That’s All.
After supper you can go to bed and sleep like a top, and in the morning you will get up feeling tip top. J. R. G.
Tennessee Industrial School, Nashville, Tenn.
When Dr. Samuel Johnson, the lexicographer, vented his unaccountable spleen against the Scotch people by defining “oatmeal” as “food for English horses and Scottish men,” he exposed himself to the witty retort. “And where will you find finer horses or better men.” Thomas Carlyle tells us that on one occasion, during a visit he paid to Lord Ashburton, at the Grange, he caught sight of Macauley’s face in unwonted repose, as he was turning over the pages of a book. “I noticed,” said he, “the homely Norse features, that you find everywhere in the Western Isles, and I thought to myself; well, any one can see that you are an honest good sort of a fellow, made out of oatmeal.”
To what extent the characteristic peculiarities of nations are due to diet is a question on which we will not enter. We believe, however, that the matter of food has much to do in determining the character and destiny of a people; and oatmeal being the principal food of Scotland it would seem to be certain that the people who have been made out of it, have been in themselves very remarkable: and have exercised an influence upon the whole civilized world that is unique and singularly potential.
In introducing our subject, it would seem to be proper to say a few words about the “land o’ cakes”—that is, oat cakes. First, there is no word in any language that has in it such perfect music, or around which cling dearer and sweeter associations than the word “Caledonia.”
“Oh Caledonia stern and wild, Meet nurse for a poetic child.”
Under the spell of that name imagination takes wing, and we are back in the springtime of youth. We hear the lark singing in the clear air. We smell the fragrance of the heather. We hear the plow-boy’s whistle, and the mild-maid’s song,—some lively ditty to relieve the tedium of labor, or it may be an old heroic melody, that glimpses some grand page of Scottish story. We hear again the murmur of voices that for long years have sunk into silence. Faces rise before us that had begun to fade from our recollection, scenes in which we formed a part, pass as a panorama, and remain for ever on the deathless page of memory.
To the student of history, Scotland is not a foreign country. The genius of its sons has made it familiar and home like to every lover of pure literature, true patriotism and heroic virtue. In undertaking to speak of it, we are embarassed with our riches.
We are not so perplexed about what we shall say, as how to say it within reasonable limits. These however are but glimpses and glances of Scotland and its people, and may serve to inspire some to seek a fuller and clearer vision, and larger grasp of a theme that can never grow old while men struggle to conquer hostile forces, or strive to win a place in the van of civilization.
Scotland is the land of old romance; where ever the eye turns some scene of classic and storied interest presents itself. There, near Stirling stands that grand modern monument to William Wallace—the hero of Scotland,—the wielder of “Freedom’s sword.” A mile distant is the scene of the battle of Bannockburn where Robert Bruce achieved the deliverance of the Scottish people from the despotism of Edward 1st, and established their independence as a nation.
It is the land where mountain torrents rave down the glens, or tumble from the steep torn into foam; or that murmur softly as they steal along on the level plain under the hazel and the broom, a land whose ruggid coast lines are indented by immense fissures through which the ocean pours its tidal waves to expand into lakes in the interior—lakes which mirror the giant forms of the mountains, and higher up where lonely tarns sleep, and the nests of the sea gull and the eagle remain undisturbed in their solitude. It is a land where magic cloud scenes unfold their sudden splendors in fiery crimson and gold, or whose skies darken in fierce tempests that blot out mountain and plain in a moment in the whirling gusts and eddies of wind and rain. A land, in brief, which has many vicissitudes of climate, from the wild winter storms to the soft and gentle touches of spring—the fervid heats of summer melting into the glowing radiance of autumn sunsets unrivalled for beauty of coloring. One stroke of Scott’s magic pen pictures it thus:
“The Western waves of ebbing day Rolled o’er the glen their level way; Each purple peak, each flinty spire Was bathed in floods of living fire.”
The capital city of Scotland is Edinburgh. It is a city of marvelous contrasts in the style of its architecture. It is divided into the old and the new towns. But the first of these arrests the attention, chiefly from the quaint and curious combinations in structure which its buildings present. They are built of stone, and many of them rise ten and twelve stories, their entrances carved with figures grotesque and repulsive—griffins, dragons, monsters—half beast and half man, with hideous scowls and leers glare and grin upon you as if daring you to enter. On one of the lower streets is the “Grass Market” which was the principal place for public evecutions, and where so many of the martyrs of the Scottish covenant sealed their testimony to the truth of God’s word with their blood. This spot recalls many of the dark deeds of an age which placed an interdict upon the human mind, attempted to rule conscience by the strong arm of law, and crush human liberty under the iron heel of remorseless and ferocious oppression. Here is Holyrood palace, an ancient pile with its quadrangles, courts, turrets, winding stone stairs, and long resounding corridors. Here is the secret stair upon which, on that memorable night in Scottish history, crept Ruthren, Douglass, and their co-conspirators, who bursting into the Queen’s private apartment, seized Rizzio, the Italian singer, and in spite of his cries for mercy, and the intercession of his royal mistress, dragged him out upon the landing, and stabbed him to death with their daggers. The stain of his blood is shown on the oaken floor to this day.
A little way up the Cannon gate stands the house of John Knox, that man of iron resolution and overpowering eloquence, who alone dared to face the treacherous and unhappy Queen and wring from her eyes the tears of vain but exasperated importunity. This is he who prayed in the over pouring interest of his soul, “Lord, give me Scotland else I die,” and whose epitaph was, “Here lies one who never feared the face of man.”
Edinburg has many monuments to its Kings, Princes, and great warriars, but the monument to John Knox is not of brass or marble, but a more enduring memorial built in the deathless admiration and affection of the Scottish people. He was a man for the age in which he lived. Much however, which he did and said can not be approved in the clearer light and under the calmer judgment of this century, and by the unimpassioned standard of a juster apprehension of God’s scheme of human salvation. Still he was one of the greatest minds Scotland has produced, and his name is enrolled among the immortals.
A little to the Southeast of Edinburgh rises a lofty hill, called “Arthur’s seat.” It presents a curious phenomnon in the outlines of its summit. Looking at it from the eastern side in the purple glow of sunset, there is clearly defined in beautiful but colossal proportions the form of a couchant lion, one part of the summit to the left forming the hips, the other elevation the neck and head, the undulation between showing the soft outlines and symmetrical bend of the body. The head seems to rest on the outstretched paws and slightly turned, looks as if watching the city with sleepless vigilance. In one of the most conspicuous points of Princes street stands that splendid triumph of architectural genius dedicated to the brightest mind in literature which Scotland claims.
A man dear to every lover of ancient song and story—one who has robed the mountains, valleys and streams of Scotland with immortal glory and universal renoun—Sir Walter Scott. We have spent many a pleasant hour studying the rugged and homely face of that figue which sits in the Centre with the Scottish plait thrown over his sholder and his favorite and famous stag-hound crouching at his feet. He has given to Scotland a citizenship of literature. Scenery, monuments, houses, cottages, characters of every age and condition from the baron to the fisherman, from the lady to the smuggler and fish wife.
The witchery of the man’s genius has cast its spell over every Englid-speaking nation. In every society that cultivates the graces and refinements of polite literature, no author holds a place of higher distinction than Walter Scott.
His works are classics. With the exception of Shakespeare, no author has “held the mirror up to nature” and pictured it with such graphic nicety of detail and gracefulness of flowing outlines as this “wizard of the north.” He opens wide the doors of romance and invites us to partake with him in the rich and abundant banquet of song and story which a thousand years of history have been preparing, and which he has with prodigious labor and unwearied industry collected with his own hand and brain and disposed on the ample board with such graceful profusion. The guests he invites us to meet are for the most part real men and women—heroes whose deeds of powess eclipse in daring and self-sacrifice the classic warriors who wandered with Aeneas, and battled around the walls of ancient Troy. The martial ardor of Wallace and Rob Roy is kindled in our breasts, we catch the glow of a holy and patriatic inspiration as we stand with the heroes of the Scottish covenant at Drumclog, and see them after psalm and prayer in fierce conflict with the Royal forces under Claverhouse, and putting them to flight after one of the bloodiest battles, for the number engaged recorded in history.
Then we bewail the woeful fanaticism that turned their camp into a school of wrangling polemics, thus forestalling their ignommious and irretrievable disaster at Bothwell Bride—a defeat which Clavenhouse swore would redeem his disgrace in a tenfold measure at Drumclog. Or again we are transported into some sylvan retreat, and trip lightly among the sweet mountain harebells in the west with “The Lady of the Lake.” We watch the hunt as it dashes through the perilous defiles where the rocks in the mountain gorge seem
“As if an infant’s touch would urge Their headlong passages down the verge.”
Or the blood tingles and the eye dilates with tremulous uncertainty as to the issue of the combat between Fitz James and Roderich Dhu. There is the subtle and agile Saxon loot to foot with the larger, but not less heroic gael; and when the latter goes down blinded with blood and fury, and falls fainting on the sod leaving his antagonist breathless but unscathed, we confess our sympathy is largely with the brave but unfortunate highlander, and feel sorry that he did not succeed in giving the gay and lordly Fitz a refreshing diff with his dagger before he fainted and fell. Then the scene changes and we are with Marmion where “Day, sets on Normans castled steep, and Cheviot’s mountains lone,” we follow the gloomy spirit through its conflicts, its sorrows and its crimes, and watch the last tragic scene of his eventful history.
The battle is raging over the pain and Marmion is dragged out of it wounded, but his fiery spirit unsubdued. The priest is near him with his consolations, and better still the tender angelic ministries of a wronged but forgiving woman.
“With fruitless labor bound And strove to staunch each flowing wound The Monk with unavailing cares Exhausted all the Church’s prayers, Ever he saw that close and near A lady’s voice, was in his ear, And that the priest he could not hear For that she ever sang: In the lost battle bourne down by the flying When mingles war’s rattle with the groans of the dying So the notes ring The war that for a space did fail Now trebly thundering swelled the gale And Stanley was the cry Alight on Marmion’s vision spread And fixed his glassy eye With dying hand above his head He shook the fragment of his blade And shouted victory! Charge, Chester charge, on Stanley on! Were the last words of Marmion.”
He had the rare facutly of compressing a whole life’s romance in a few stanzas, as in “Lochinvar.”
Scott’s was not wholly an ideal world, nor his life a romance. There was something very real and prosaic in it—something also of the tragic. Not a few of the virtues of his ideal heroes became prominent in his own life. After his fame had been established, and nothing of earthly ambition and popular applause remained unsatisfied, there came upon him those sweeping financial disasters in which his own fortunes and those of Constable his publisher went down in wreck and ruin that seemed irretrievable. But with a heroism unparalled in the history of literature, he girds himself anew to cancel by his pen a debt that was colossal in its magnitude. He was fifty-five years of age. He could accept no compromise, but goes to work writing untiringly until by sheer force and industry he succeeded in paying off seventy thousand of the one hundred and seventeen thousand pounds sterling which was the sum total of his debt, but he achieved that tremendous feat at the expense of an exhauseted brain and a paralyzed body. He perished in the attempt to redeem his honor and good name. But the name remains immortal and while Scottish hearts and Scottish brains throb and beat, and tears and smiles be evoked as a tribute to genius, the memory of Scott shall remain enshrined on the deathless galaxy of fame.
Another of the great names imperishably with old Caledonia is that of Robert Burns, the darling of the Scottish muse, the pride and glory of his native land, and the idol of the Scottish people. Poor unfortunate child of genius. It is hard to read his brief history without being choked with our sobs. Beginning life in the midst of the deepest poverty, we are told that the miserable clay hovel in which he first saw the light was partly wrecked by a January tempest on the very night of his birth—sad forecast of the brief, bitter, and stormy career which awaited him. At sixteen years of age he tells us his life was “the cheerless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing toil of a galley slave.” After his father’s death the little paternal estae had to be sold to satisfy creditors, and after three years “tossing and whirling in the vortex of litigation” Robert and his brother Gilbert succeeded in saving a trifle from the clutches of the lawyears by stepping in as creditors for arrears of wages. When they got to work again the poet received the sum of seven pounds sterling (35 dollars) per annum. Troubles multiplied upon him owing chiefly to his own indiscretions until he says frankly “even in the hour of social mirth, my gayety is the madness of an intoxicated criminal under the hands of the executioner.”
But in the midst of his daily durgery and incessant toil through summer heats and winter tempests, traveling through the snow, toiling at the plow, thrashing his grain with the “weary flingin tree,” attending market, he nevertheless found time to chant some of the sweetest lyrics ever penned. The outward conditions of his life were dark and lowering, but these could not quench those movements and ambitions of his inner man which flamed up like the lurid flashes of volcanic fires, and threw over the dark shadows of his destiny, a glory and a radiant heat which no adversity could quench. He works like a slave, it is true, but he must need pour in as occasion offered the pure and holy oil of lofty aspirations gathered from nature’s ample store, and a few well worn books, to feed the deathless flame of song which had begun to burn upon the altar of his heart. “He carried a book to study at spare moments in the field and he wore out thus two copies of MacKenzie’s Man of Feeling.” A suggestive hint, for with all his misfortunes, and his sins, perhaps, no more tender heart ever beat in human breast than that of Robert Burns. None more loyal to friendship or more sensitive to generous love and sympathy.
“There is sacrecely any earthly object” he says, “which gives me more pleasure than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood, or high plantation on a cloudy winter day, and hear the stormy wind houling among the trees, and raving over the plain. I listened to the birds and frequently turned out of my path, lest I should disturb their little song or frighten them to another station.”
Doubless his own misfortunes brought him into closer relations of sympathetic feeling even with the poorest and meanest things that were suddenly exposed to loss and pain, as for instance in the inadvertent passage of his ploughshare through a field mouse’s nest. Listen to his tender strain.
“We sleekit Cowerin timerous beastie, O what a pancis in thy breastie; Thou need nae start awa sae hasty, Wi bickerin brattle I wad de laith to rin and chase thee Wi murderin pattle.”
He moralizes at once, and does not think it beneath his dignity to put himself on the same plane for a time even with a mouse.
“I’m truly sorry man’s dominion Has broken nature’s social union An justifies that ill opinion Which makes thee startle At me, thy poor earth born companion An fellow moral.”
He sees in the house of “leaves and stubble” so carefully collected against the winter storm, and analogy which he is slow to improve.
“But mousie thou art no thy lane In proving fore sight may be vain The best laid schemes o’ mince and men Gang aft agley An, lea us naught but grief and pain For promised joy.”
Perhaps the key note to Burns’ muse may be found in the homage which he paid to woman. “He was alwoys in love,” and he sang of love in strains as sweet as any mortal minstrel ever made, but he was only a mortal after all: and his illicit loves are the darkest blot on his name. But at first this passion burned with a pure and guileless fervor; and the sweetest lyric of his muse is the product of an early attachment for Mary Campbell whom “death untimely frost” snatched from his embrace. On the anniversary of her death, he had stayed out all night in the barn, tossing and tumbling till the dawn of day; and before the morning star was quenched in the rising sun, he went into the house and wrote:
“Thou lingering star, with less’ning ray, That lov’st to greet the early morn, Again, thou usher’st in the day, My Mary, from my soul was torn. O, Mary! dear departed shade! Where is thy place of blissful rest? Seest thou thy lover, lowly laid? Hear’st thou the groans, that rend his breast?
That sacred hour—can I forget, Can I forget the hallow’d grove, Where, by the winding Ayr we met, To live one day of parting love! Eternity—will not efface Those records dear, of transports past; Thy image, at our last embrace! Ah! little thought I ’twas our last!
Ayr, gurgling, kissed his pebbled shore, O’erhung with wild woods’ thich’ning green; The fragant birch, and hawthorn here, Twin’d amorous round the raptur’d scene: The flowers sprang—wanton to be prest, The bird sang love—on every spray; Till, too soon, the glowing west, Proclaim’d the speed of winged day.
Still o’er these scenes my mem’ry wakes, And fondly broods, with miser care! Time but the impression deeper makes, As streams—their channels deeper wear. My Mary! dear departed shade! Where is thy place of blissful rest? Seest thou thy lover lowly laid? Hear’st thou the groans that rend his breats?”
No one has painted with such consummate skill, such tender grace, and with such depth of coloring “the short and simple annals of the poor” as Burns has done. He knew by bitter experience the struggles of poverty, the grinding toil needed to wring from an inhospitable climate, and unkindly soil the meagre products which barely supported life. His “Cottars’ Saturday Night” is a picture of peasant life in Scotland unequalled for purity and beauty by any production of genius, and is, we think, the crowning triumph of his poetic skill. It is a finished production, and his words flash upon our memory and imagination those scnes of humble but honest poverty, pious worth and modest joys, which relieve the monotonous burden of the Scottish laborer’s daily toil. The week’s work is done, and the poor toiler, gathering his few implements together, wends his way across the moor to his humble home. His gleeful little ones run to meet him. He is saluted by the kindly smile of a contented wife. A bright fire throws a genial glow over his poor but tidy home. The elder brains drop in with the scanty pittances earned by domestic services among their neighbors. Jenny, the pride of the family, in the first bloom of womanhood, introduces with bashful modesty, an honest lad worthy of her love and confidence. The mother is glad that her brain is “respected like the lave.”
“The father chats of horses, plows, and kye.” The humble, hospitable board is spread, and the evening meal is eaten with grateful thanks to God. Then “the big ha’ Bible” is brought out, and the old song that fired to enthusiasm the children of the Scottish covenant in their wanderings, is sung, and “the saint, the father, and the husband prays:
“That thus they all shall meet in future days, There, ever bask in uncreated rays, No more to sigh, or shed the tear, Together hymning their Creator’s praise, In such society, yet still more dear; While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere.”
As he tells the touching and familiar story, a glow of honest pride in his native land kindles in his breast, and he places the chaplet of honor upon the brow of pious poverty.
“From scenes like these, old Scotia’s grandeur springs That make her loved at home, reveered abroad. Princes and Lords are but the breath of Kings, An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”
Genius had few liberal patrons at that time; and the compensations rendered to those who worshipped at the shrine of the Muses, consisted in great part in patronizing invitations to big dinners or in treats in the dram shops, where poets paid for their etertainment by appearing as prodigies, or by bartering the fine gold of their wit for draughts from the Circean Cup of popular applause and brutal intoxication.
The convivial usages of the country were almost universal; and Burns, with his genial nature and love of society, easily fell a prey to the seductions of Bacchus. It was considered an insult to hospitality to sit down to dinner in the house of a friend and get up from the table sober.
It was a time when hosts were not solicitous about the results of a revel or the comfort of guests, provided that there was a plentiful supply of hot water and sugar to replenish the punch bowl.
“But what will I do for beds for all these men?” said Margaret, the Laird of Logan’s house keeper. “Keep the kettle boiling Marg’et ma Wooman,” said the Laird, “and they will a find beds for themselves” to be fechtin’ fou’ or “greetin’ fow” was regarded as the normal condition of a well dined gentleman.
It was too often alas at such shrines and amid such scenes that poor Burns kindled the torch of his inspiration. He drew from life when in his masterpiece of “Tam O’Shanter” he pictured two drunken Cronies seeking respite from care in foaming tankards of ale inn:
“Auld Ayr, wham ne’re a toon surpasses For honest men and bonnie lassies.”
At Tam’s elbow sits Soute Johnie:
“His ancient droutly cronie: Tam lo’ed him like a verra brither; They had been fou for week thegether.”
None knew better than Burns how ephemeral are the joys of social drinking, and no one has ever produced such a chain of similitudes to describe their fleeting sweetness.
“But pleasures are like poppies spread, You seize the flower, its bloom is shed; Or like the Borealis race That flit ere you can point their place; Or like the rainbow’s lovely form Evanishing amid the storm. Or like the snow-flakes in the river, A moment white, then melts forever.”
We know of nothing in literature that, in the same space, contains so much of the homely, the horrible, and the grotesque, as will be found in this poem. There is a sharp Rembrandt-like minuteness in the details of this Scotch Walpurgis night that produces terror on the reader mingled with an irrisistible inclination to shriek with laughter. We watch the hard drunken sot
“Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg, A better never lifted leg.”
Skelping along through the mud and pouring rain, the lightnings flashing from “pole to pole.”
“Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet, Whiles croomin o’er some auld Scotch sonnet While peepm round with prudent care Lest bogles catch him unaware.”
Every turn in the road has its tragic associations. Here a packman was smothered in the snow. Here hunters found a murdered child. Here an old thorn tree near a well where a woman hanged herself, etc. Till the adventurers are crowned on his approaching the old Kirk at Alloway which seems blazing to heaven.
We have stood in it, and really it looks a very innocent ruin, nothing but four stone walls, roofles, with a niche at one end where he old pulpit once stood. But in that neche Burns put “Aul Nick” as a piper to whose music a rabble rout of sheol are dancing “fast and furious.” Tammie urges on his mare until he comes into the sheolish light which gilds the ghastly scene, where the bones of murderers, the garter that strangled a babe, the knife that lacerated the throat of a father.
“And more of horrible and awful Which even to name would be unlawful.”
He cannot restrain a feeling of tender pity for one of the horrible crew who had been that very night enrolled among them. He thinks of the time when she was a little innocent child.
“O little kenned thy reveren’d granny The sack she Coft for her wee Nannie Wi’twa pund Scots ’twas a’ her riches, Should ever grace dance o’ witches.”
The climax is reached when Tam, carried away by his wonder at the marvelous agility displayed by the leader of the infernal gang who was arrayed in a very abbreviated under garment, cries out:
“Weel dune cutty sark And in an instant a’was dark,”
This precipitates the catastrophe.
“As bess bizz out wi, angry fik When murderons assail their bike As open pussey’s mortal foes When, pop, she starts before their nose, As eager runs the market crowd When “catch the thief” resounds aloud, So Maggie runs the witche’s fetlow, With many an eldritch scretch and hollow.”
The devotee of Bacchees hastens to procure the protection of the river Doon as witches dare not cross a running stream, and is indebted to his good horse for his safety although that is secured at the expense of her tail which she leaves in the clutches of the “Carlin.”
Perhaps the songs of Burns have exercised a more universal influence than his poems. They seize the heart and hold it as by a spell of enchantment. Who knows not the grand nation melody “Scots wha hae” and the familiar lyrics “Auld Lang Syne,” “John Anderson, My Joe,” “Comin’ through the Rye,” etc. In most of his songs there is a strain of sadness as indeed there is in most of the finest Scottish lyrics other than those written by Burns.
The brightest gems of the Muse show the sparkle of tears or utter the sad sigh which one hears in the moan of the waves, or the wail of the midnight wind through a pine forest. But the songs of Burns have a charm that enlist the sympathy of the whole world. He voices the universal experience. He is the high priest of nature. His words give tone and character to the passion, the sorrows, the pains and the joys of common people. He uses no artifice to engage the interest of others. His genius was a well-spring fresh and pure from the fountains of the heart, in its first unstrained gushings: too soon, alas, to migle with the defiling tributaries which a bitter experience of human life brought to blend with the clearer stream. With his great heart burning with a sense of wrong done him by those who ought to have sheltered and befriended him, mixed also with the bitter reflection that his own indiscretions and sins had entailed suffering and shame upon himself and upon those who were dearer to him than his own life, he sinks into the dark tide of death as the age of 38 years; not, we trust, without a hope that the infinite Father of mercy had heard the piteous appeal which he recorded in these words.
“O thou great governor of all below If I may dare a litted eye to thee, For all unfit I feel my powers to be To rule their torrent in the hollowed line O aid me with thy help, Omnipotence Divine.”
He wrote his own epitaph, and it is an honest and sincere confession, but if he had lived under more favorable auspices, and had his environment been such as to assure that the flame of his genius would have been nourished from the altars of a purer and fitter companionship, he would probably have penned a far different stanza than this which fitly closes a dark and stormy career, not unrelieved by many bright flashes of hope and gladness.
“The poor inhabitant below Was quick to learn and wise to know And dearly felt the amorous glow And social flame But thoughtless follies laid him low And stained him name.”
A spirit kindred to that of Robert Burns and one whose fame shall never perish, or be dimmed while “Annie Laurie” is sung—and where is it not sung? It is that of Robert Tannahill, a poor Paisley weaver. We have stood on the bridge which spans the canal near the city, and looked with sorrowful interest into that pool in the corner, where, driven by the demons of poverty and unappreciated talent, the disracted author ended his brief life. He was a true poet. He wrote many songs that the world will not willingly let die. One of the stanzas is peculiarly fine in its delicacy and tenderness:
“Towering o’er the Newton woods Laverocks fan the snaw white clouds Siller saughs wi downy buds Adorn the banks sae biery. Sweet the snaw flowers early bell Decks Gleniffers dewy dell Blooming like thy bonny sell My ain my artless deary.”
We would mention another bright name also a native of this same town of Paisley. John Wilson—known better by his pen name of “Christopher North” the author of “Noctes Ambrosianae.” He rose from obscurity to great honor and to the chair of moral philosophy in the University of Ediuburgh. He was a giant in stature as well as in mind, and one of the knightliest of men. No one who ever met Wilson striding along the street, his long yellow hair flowing over his shoulders, his blue eyes gleaming with merriment, and glowing with an intelligence that comprehend every department of knowledge, could ever forget him.
He may be fairly ranked with Scott and Burns in the power he exercised in the later part of his life, in storming the heart of the Scottish people—becoming at last their idol and great literary representative. He was conemporary with Thomas Brown whom he succeeded in the chair of moral philosophy, and with Sir William Hamilton, who was a candidate with him for the chair, but who, up to that time, had not given to the public those proofs of that consumate ability by which he was afterwards distinguished, and which placed him in the foremost rank of the most eminent European scholars.
Wilson once a poet, lecturer, statesman, orator, and novelist. He was the intimate friend of Coleridge, Woodsworth, and Southey. His poems of the “Isle of Palms” and the “City of the Plague” are productions that gave him a worthy place among those bright lights of song shed so brilliant a luster over that age of great minds, and whose genuis has bequeathed to all future time, the priceless legacy if immortal harmonies and wealth of thought. He was with all a very muscular Christian; “for on more than one occasion, the singular spectacle was exhibited of a Scotch professor of moral science taking off his coat in a public market place to inflict personal chastisment on some ruffian whose obnoxious proceedings has done outrage to his nicer sense of the fitness of things.” He was, with Lockheart, one of the original contributors to Blackwood’s Magazine, and helped more than any other author to give that publication a popularity that continues to this day.
It is said of Aytoun, Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Letters in Ediuburgh University, when he was courting Wilson’s daughter that he could not summon up courage to ask her father to give his consent to their marriage, although he knew how exalted a place he occupied in Wilson’s estimation.
Here stood the silver tongued Aytown, week after week, trying to screw up his courage to ask the question that filled his heart, but he could not do it. At length he said: “Jessie, will you go and ask your father for me as I cannot?” Jessie was soon beside her father and acquainted him with how matters stood. “Puir Aytown,” said Wilson, “I maun gie him his answer in writing.”
So saying he wrote a line without Jessie’s knowledge of its purport, and pinning it on the back of her dress, sent her off to Aytoun whom he well knew was just at that moment fully appreciating the significance of the verb “to wait.”
“What did he say, Jessie?” was the impatient interrogatory of the loving professor. Jessie turned her back for once upon her lover, and then he read the precious answer: “With the Author’s compliments.”
This same little town of Paisley is distinguished as the birth place of another Wilson who is worthy of mention here because he became famous as the great “American ornithologist”—Alexander Wilson, born 1766. He began his career also as a poet with a witty and felicitous production called: “Watty and Meg.” That brings out with marvelous fidelity some of the most humurous phases of Scottish life and character. He came to America in 1794, and after many and thrilling adventures, gave to the world his great book on “American Birds” in seven quarto volumes. George Ord and Charles Lucein Bonaparte completed the work by issuing, after Wilson’s death, four volumes more. It is a record of patient industry that helped to put this land forward in the records of fame, and publish to the world its marvelous resources.
We might give brief sketches of such. Dr. Thomas Guthrie, the father of the ragged schools of Scotland. One short story will illustrate how earnest was the Doctor in his efforts to save the children from the dismal and fearful depths of vice and crime and infamy.
One night at a public meeting, a reverend but very unsympathetic speaker described the ragged school children as rescals and vagabonds, the scum of the country. When Guthrie’s time for speaking came, he arose with pale face and quivering lips, seized a sheet of writing paper from the table, and holding it up, said: “This was once the scum of the country—once foul, wretched rags. In it, now white as the snows of heaven, behold an emblem of the work our ragged schools have achieved.”
And there was Sir David Brewster who could “scan with more than an eagle’s eye, the mighty creations in the bosom of space, and Hugh Miller, that huge geological hammer, inscribed with Hebrew characters. It is a very noticeable fact, that those minds that have most largely influenced the thought and progress of civilized nations have not in the main borrowed their light from an illustrious and wealthy ancestry, but have risen from the ranks and been found chiefly among the humble sons of poverty and toil. The genius of Scotland has been nourished and developed amid hard and hostile conditions. It has grown strong and rooted itself deeply amid tempests and storms! not amid the soft and voluptuous ease of effeminate luxury. It has given to the world the brightest trophies of sciences, philosophy, oratory, and song. Its sons have been scattered among all people; but as a rule they have commanded the respect and enlisted the effections of all among whom their lot has been cast. They have ever felt the force of that fine sentiment expressed by the greatestk of their poets.
“Is no in title nor in rank Its no in wealth like Lunnom Bonk To purchase peace and rest. Its no in makin’ muckle mare Its no in books, it no in lair To make us truly blest. If happiness has not its seat and centre in the breast, We may be wise, or rich, or great, but never can be blest. Nae treasurers nor pleasures Can make us happy lang The hearts aye the part aye That makes us rich or wrang.”