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TIME was, I sat upon a lofty stool,
My commercial career was a brief one, and deserved only a sonnet in commemoration. The fault, however, lay not with the
To commit poetry indeed is a crime ranking next to forgery in the counting-house code ; and an Ode or a song dated Copthall Court, would be as certainly noted and protested as a dishonored bill. I have even heard of an unfortunate clerk, who lost his situation through being tempted by the jingle to subscribe under an account current
* Excepted all errors
his employer emphatically declaring that Poetry and Logwood could never coexist in the same head. The principal of our firm on the contrary had a turn for the Belles Lettres, and would have
winked with both eyes at verses which did not intrude into an invoice or confuse their figures with those of the Ledger. The true cause of my retirement from Commercial affairs was more prosaic. My constitution, though far from venerable, had begun to show symptoms of decay: my appetite failed, and its principal creditor, the stomach, received only an ounce in the pound. My spirits daily became a shade lower-my flesh was held less and less firmly-in short, in the language of the price current, it was expected that I must “submit to a decline.” The Doctors who were called in, declared imperatively that a mercantile life would be the death of me—that by so much sitting, I was hatching a whole brood of complaints, and that no Physician would insure me as a merchantman from the Port of London to the next Spring. The Exchange, they said, was against me, and as the Exchange itself used to ring with “ Life let us Cherish, there was no resisting the advice. I was ordered to abstain from Ashes, Bristles, and Petersburg yellow candle, and to indulge in a more generous diet—to take regular country exercise instead of the Russia Walk, and to go to bed early even on Foreign Post nights. Above all I was recommended change of air, and in particular the bracing breezes of the North. Accordingly I was soon shipped, as per advice, in a Scotch Smack, which “ smacked through the breeze," as Dibdin sings, so merrily, that on the fourth morning we were in sight of the prominent old Steeple of Bonny Dundee.”
My Biographer, in the Book of Gems, alludes to this voyage, and infers from some verses" Gadzooks! must one swear to the truth of a song ?”-that it sickened me of the sea. Nothing can be more unfounded. The marine terrors and disagreeables enumerated in the poem, belong to a Miss Oliver, and not to me, who regard the ocean with a natural and national partiality. Constitutionally proof against that nausea which extorts so many wave-offerings from the afflicted, I am as constant as Captain Basil Hall himself, in my regard “for the element that never tires.” Some washy fellows, it is true, Fresh-men from Cambridge and the like, affect to prefer river or even pond water for their aquatics—the tame ripple to the wild wave, the prose to " the poetry of motion.” But give me “ the multitudinous sea,'
resting or rampant, with all its variable moods and changeable coloring. Methought, when pining under the maladie du pays, on a hopeless, sick bed, inland, in Germany, it would have relieved those yearnings but to look across an element so instinct with English associations, that it would seem rather to unite me to than sever me from my native island. And, truly, when I did at last stand on the brink of the dark blue sea, my home-sick wishes seemed already half fulfilled, and it was not till many months afterwards that I actually crossed the Channel. But I am, besides, personally under deep obligations to the great deep. Twice, indeed, in a calm and in a storm, has my life been threat. ened with a salt-water catastrophe; but that quarrel has long been made up, and forgiven, in gratitude for the blessing and bracing influence of the breezes that smack of the ocean brine. Dislike the sea !With what delight aforetime used I to swim in it, to dive in it, to sail on it! Ask honest Tom Woodgate, of Hastings, who made of me, for a landsman, a tolerable boatsman. Even now, when do I feel so easy in body, and so cheerful in spirit, as when walking hard by the surge, listening, as if expecting some whispering of friendly but distant voices, in its eternal murmuring. Sick of the sea! If ever I have a water-drinking fancy, it is a wish that the ocean brine had been sweet, or sour instead of salt, so as to be potable ; for what can be more tempting to the eye as a draught, than the pure fluid, almost invisible with clearness, as it lies in some sandy scoop, or rocky hollow, a true “ Diamond of the Desert,” to say nothing of the same living liquid in its effervescing state, when it sparkles up, hissing and bubbling in the ship's wake—the very Champaigne of water! Above all, what intellectual solar and soothing syrup have I not derived from the mere contemplation of the boundless main,the most effectual and innocent of mental sedatives, and often called in aid of that practical philosophy it has been my wont to recommend in the present work. For whenever, owing to physical depression, or a discordant state of the nerves, my personal vexations and cares, real or imaginary, become importunate in my thoughts, and acquire, by morbid exaggeration, an undue prominence and importance, what remedy then so infallible as to mount to my solitary seat in the look-out, and thence
gaze awhile across the broad expanse, till in the presence of that vast horizon, my proper troubles shrink to their true proportions, and I look on the whole race of men, with their insignificant pursuits, as so many shrimpers ! But this is a digression-we have made the harbor of Dundee, and it is time to step ashore in “ stout and original Scotland," as it is called by Doctor Adol. phus Wagner, in his German edition of Burns.*
Like other shipments, I had been regularly addressed to the care of a consignee ;--but the latter, not anxious, probably, to take charge of a hobbledehoy, yet at the same time unwilling to incur the reproach of having a relative in the same town and not under the same roof, peremptorily declined the office. Nay, more, she pronounced against me a capital sentence, so far as returning to the place from whence I came, and even proceeded to bespeak my passage and reship my luggage. Judging from such vigorous measures the temper of my customer, instead of remonstrating, I affected resignation, and went with a grave face through the farce of a formal leave-taking ; I even went on board, but it was in company with a stout fellow who relanded
* The Baron Dupotet de Sennevoy and Doctor Elliotson will doubtless be glad to be informed, that the inspired Scottish Poet was a believer in their magnetismal mysteries—at least in the article of reading a book behind the back. In a letter to Mr. Robert Ainslie, is the following passage in proof. “I have no doubt but scholarcraft may be caught, as a Scotchman catches the itch-by friction. How else can you account for it that born blockheads, by mere dint of handling books, grow so wise that even they themselves are equally convinced of, and surprised at their own parts? I once carried that philosophy to that degree, that in a knot of country folks, who had a library amongst them, and who, to the honor of their good sense, made me factotum in the business; one of our members, a little wiselook, squat, upright, jabbering body of a tailor, I advised him instead of turning over the leaves, to bind the book on his back. Johnnie took the hint, and as our meetings were every fourth Saturday, and Pricklouse having a good Scots mile to walk in coming, and of course another in returning, Bodkin was sure to lay his hand on some heavy quarto or ponderous folio; with and under which, wrapt up in his grey plaid, he grew wise as he grew weary all the way home. He carried this so far, that an old musty Hebrew Concordance, which we had in a present from a neighboring priest, by mere dint of applying it as doctors do a blistering plaster, between his shoulders, Stitch, in a dozen pilgrimages, acquired as much rational theology as the said priest had done by forty years' perusal of its pages.”
my baggage; and thus, whilst my transporter imagined, good easy soul ! that the rejected article was sailing round St. Abb’s Head, or rolling off the Bass, he was actually safe and snug in Dundee, quietly laughing in his sleeve with the Law at his back. I have a confused recollection of meeting, some three or four days afterwards, a female cousin on her road to school, who at sight of me turned suddenly round, and galloped off towards home with the speed of a scared heifer.
My first concern was now to look out for some comfortable roof, under which “ for a consideration” one would be treated as one of the family. I entered accordingly into a treaty with a respectable widower, who had no sons of his own, but in spite of the most undeniable references, and a general accordance as to terms, there occurred a mysterious hitch in the arrangement, arising from a whimsical prepossession which only came afterwards to my knowledge-namely, that an English laddie, instead of supping parritch, would inevitably require a rumpsteak to his breakfast! My next essay was more successful ; and ended in my being regularly installed in a boarding house, kept by a Scotchwoman, who was not so sure of my being a beefeater. She was a sort of widow, with a seafaring husband
as good as dead,” and in her appearance not unlike a personi. fication of rouge et noir, with her red eyes, her red face, her yel. low teeth, and her black velvet cap. The first day of my term happened to be also the first day of the new year, and on stepping from my bed-room, I encountered our Hostess-like a witch and her familiar spirit—with a huge bottle of whiskey in one hand, and a glass in the other. It was impossible to decline the dram she pressed upon me, and very good it proved, and undoubtedly strong, seeing that for some time I could only muse its praise in expressive silence, and indeed, I was only able to speak with “a small still voice” for several minutes afterwards. Such was my characteristic introduction to the Land of Cakes, where I was destined to spend the greater part of two years, under circumstances likely to materially influence the coloring and filling up of my future life.
To properly estimate the dangers of my position, imagine a boy of fifteen, at the Nore, as it were, of life, thus left depend