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of these railroads? What does the mere principle of mobility do for us, but as means to that end? Of old time and space seemed going for nothing, truth was left to take its chance, and travel could not bind them up. Now they all pretend to go together, but how far is this really the case? Let us distinguish, then, between the use and abuse of railroads; let us avail ourselves of our new resources; for if we did not, we should have as little claims on posterity, as they would have on what comes after; for what are these resources given to us? What is our mind, but like the earth, to make the most of? This mind says, Let us work those resources, science gives the tools, new necessities give new inventions, and new ways and means create new wants and wishes. Yes, we know all this; we know that we are arrived at a new state of society, we know that railroads are agents of new wealth, but for this very reason we should know how to regulate our course. If our agricultural interests are to be sacrificed to those of the manufacturing, if the roots and bowels of our old land are to be torn and swallowed up on pretence of seeking new treasures, and that England is to become one vast hive of machinery, let us consider how far all this can go in other respects, let us see how far it has gone already. We know our resources, we know that they are immense, but we know that we must avail ourselves of them with judgment. Yes, they are immense, they are astonishing, and they point out our new age. Coal and iron are our gold mines, mind is our manufactory, and mind and matter have entered into a new partnership, where minutes and miles explain each other in the great account. The press works the steam-engine, the steam-engine works the press; by the railroads of iron, we have railroads of mind; they act and react on each other; and as the old coaches cannot run over the new
is what every body must see, if they calmly look about them. We wish to look at it as philosophers, not as politicians. We wish that party spirit may not be said to deform these pages. We see virtues and vices, right and wrong, on all sides, and this only belongs to every age as it comes. But it is the strange proportion in which these things are mixed that has struck us; it is the strange conflict and composition in which they seem held; for it is an age of contrasts and contradiction,-an age of concordia discors,—an age where we all seem agreed to disagree with each other; and whose colours, like the chameleon's, depend on the light we view it by. We must go on therefore; we must see that with all the opposition currents there is a progressive stream going down from generation to generation-vivifying, fructifying, and recording; but we must also see how the direction of this stream depends on ourselves. If it is not an age of philosophy, and if philosophy does not exactly begin "where satiety ends," still we see a kind of retributive principle, a kind of vis medicatrix naturæ, ever at work. Still time teaches wisdom, by teaching experience. Wisdom does not come by acts of parliament, neither does virtue, neither does philosophy; but acts of parliament may improve us in the ways that lead to such. We have got our new reform, but let there be social reform; we have got higher powers, but we want higher principles to regulate them; we want a higher stream and a fresher current running through our whole moral atmosphere.
Let us go on, then, but let us look to such; let us think that England's brighter days are even still to come. When the Portuguese navigator first made the Cape, it was shrouded in storm; the storm wore away, and its spirit descended in Good Hope. Let us look forward in like manner; the storm is now on all sides, but truth will bring calm. Let us see what our resources are; let us see what
THE peasantry whose acts and opinions I love so much to record, disregarding those great eras from which "profound politicians" date events, refer in their traditionary annals to times which have an influence on their own fortunes, and recall periods of darkness and storm, of sorrow and wo. Thus, instead of referring to the birth-time of Jeremy Benthama moment sacred to sound philosophy -they find an equivalent in " Windy Saturday," a day on which the winds of heaven broke through all established law, and desired to restore earth again to chaos; and instead of admitting Malthus to the honours of their calendar, they find a representative in "Mirk Monday," a day in which a thick cloud came over the whole people, and gross darkness reigned. In later times, another landmark has been established-namely, "Will-o'-wisp Wednesday;" which, for moving accidents by flood and field, is a day, or rather night, worthy of being recorded, as well as held in remembrance. The grave and moral author of the Man of Feeling perceived this taste for local dates even in individuals, and introduces in one of his clever tales a damsel from Edinburgh who, neglecting the hour of her birth, dates all that befell her from the night when she met with her "misfortune." A devout man of my own acquaintance dates from the day on which he says the true light flashed upon him, and he was born again; declaring at the same time, that he can see no cause why God singled him out for such a manifest mercy, for he was a great and miserable sinner.
Now I know not whether on "Will-o'-wisp Wednesday" any ac cidents occurred such as befell the damisel of Auld Reekie, or that a
his light practised his delusions on the staid and the devout, and led those wrong that never strayed before. Nor did the mischievous meteor confine its experiments to the illiterate alone; it presented itself to the learned dominie of the district; and, after decoying him through a quagmire furnished with peat-potholes, well-nigh succeeded in persuading him that the flooded Nith was the trout-stream at his own door, and that the cursed twinkle of its elfin lamp was the light of his own window. But it would be unjust to the accidents and adventures of this fated night, were I to dismiss them all in one brilliant sentence; it would be unjust also to my own fame to get rid of them, as travellers say, with a dry foot, for I look upon these Rustic Controversies as things of life, which the land will not willingly let die; so, from a double regard to self and country, I shall allow the story of "Will-o'-wisp Wednesday" to evolve in its own proper order, and adorn it with illustrations of a controversial kind.
The day which ushered in this remarkable night had been quite a pet, as ploughmen say. The sky was clear, and the breeze was balm, or, to speak more correctly, was filled with the fragrance of the blooming heather; while the birds sang as sweet and as loud as if hawks and howlets had been abolished by act of parliament; and, to crown all, the sun not only shone brightly down in his mid-day march through the heaven, but looked, when he sat on the summit of the green western hills, as if desirous to usurp the province of the moon and stars, and abide there and gaze on a scene which only wanted a happy touch or two, as painters word it, to be quite chaste and beautiful.
was thrown into darkness. It is still remembered that Pate Proudfoot, of Haselbrae-a shepherd who was not only familiar with the ills which belong to mugs, wethers, and dinmans, but knew the ailments of the planets, and could read the meaning of blood-red suns, double moons, and shooting stars - was returning from the uplands when the sun, as he said, "dooped down at ance!" He stood stone still; held his hand above his eyes to concentrate and direct his powers of vision; shook his head slowly, and, turning suddenly round, revisited the folded ewes, and gave a glance at a score of outlyer stots, before he went home. It is added, also, by those who place Will-o'-wisp Wednesday" high in the calendar of memorable days, That the very bats forsook the air; the winged bum-clocks dropped all at once their drowsy drone; and the owl, as if it saw something strange and threatening, opened wide its great round eyes, and, with a startled cry, fled to its hiding-place in Comyn's auld Tower."
Were I a painter of landscape, I could delineate the twilight or gloaming of this Will-o'-wisp Wednesday with a brightness and an accuracy which words are unable to convey. I would mix up my palette in the manner of Turner when he surveys an object through the atmosphere of poetry, and limn a scene dark, but yet clear, with a gauze of blackness drawn, veil-like, over the pure face of the sky; stars trembling, rather than shining; the moon, with her cold, dull edge, raised a hand's breadth above the summit of the eastern hills, as if hesitating whether to rise or no; and the whole valley which lies between the hills of Galloway and those of Tinwald filled with a slowcurling and rolling mist, through which you might hear the descent of water in the linns, the alarmed call of travellers uncertain of their way, and now and then the half shriek and giggle of lasses who, on their way from the fields, were blinded in a mantle of mist, and ran against a loose calf or a stray man. But it would require the skill of my friend Martin himself, who has all kinds of supernatural lights at command, to let the elfin lustre of Will-o'-wisp loose on the scene as it was on that fated night,
YOL. XXIV. NO. CXXXIX.
and endow it with that fascinating sparkle which confounds experience and misleads wisdom.
The reapers, with their bright sickles over their arms, were retiring from the labours of the harvestfield, when this misty inundation took place, and were heard better than seen, when some damsel, with a clear voice, attempted to cheer her companions with the verse of a favourite song.
Is this a time for kirling up fule songs," said an old bandsman, "when unnatural darkness is come to swallow up the land; and, for aught I ken, there may be pestilence in its company?"
"Saunders," retorted the singer, "ye are a pest yersel' to all pleasure. If it's 's a bright day, ye remember the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah; if it's a dull day, ye cry, How dare ye lilt and laugh, when the land is visited wi' sic judgment-like weather as this?' and when the dead of night comes, ye cry, Let us pray that the light o' morn may return to the land again!""
A shrill laugh, in which many voices were united, told how truly the character of Saunders was touched off.
"Weel, weel," said he, "if ye winna believe me, believe that!" and he pointed to a small, blue, glimmering light, which went dancing to and fro amid the mist, and was never for a moment settled or steady. "Sic like appearances were common in this land, I have heard my grandsire say," continued Saunders, "before the fatal Mars year, and still more fearful were they before the bloody Forty-five; nor were they absent before the great Famine, at the close of the last century, when the staff of life raise frae aughteenpence to aught-and-sax pence a stane. I wonder what is next to befall!"
The girl ceased her song, her comrades ceased their mirth, and all began to hasten homewards in the rear of Saunders, who, strong in virtue, strode vigorously before, putting himself boldly in the van, as a ram when a fence is to be scaled or a strange dog braved, puts himself at the head of the softer portion of the flock, and presents his large curled horns and hard brow to the contest.
By this time the mist filled up
valley as fully as a vessel is filled with water. The tops of the neighbouring hills, with here and there the peak of a roof, and, by fits and starts, the battlements of some ruined castle, were alone to be seen. The lights of cottage-windows glimmered faint; and the lamps and candles, oppressed with the vapour which forced its way in at door and window, shed a strange light around the house; the dogs crept closer to the hearth, and looked up in men's faces as if to inquire what this strange change foreboded.
"Laddie," said my mother to me, gang yere ways out, and meet the shearers. Maist of them are fremit folk; and that demented bodie, Saunders, wi' his clavers, will be waur than Will-o'-wisp to them. He'll scare them wi' his fule tales, and mislead them wi' his terror; for he believes Willie, wi' his harmless lamp, to be a demon. If they're no up to their middle in the Snipe-mire already, they will be soon.'
Thus admonished, I walked out towards the field on which that morning I had placed a score of reapers. It was some time before I could hear them, for seeing them was out of the question. The first voice I heard was that of a reaper from the English side of the Esk, crying, “Domme, there's Jack again! Jack's a rum
"Haud yere profane tongue!" I heard Saunders say, with a tremulous voice. "Can ye no tell a lie without swearing? That's nane o' Jack, as ye ca' him, I wish it were; I wadna mind yere English spunkie mair than the light o' a turnip-lantern; but this is a real Will-o'-wisp-a light that comes frae the ill place. See till't! see till't! Ay, ay! ye wad fain wile Saunders into the Dead Man's Plump: he's fool, and fool enough, but no sic a fool as to prefer a flowmoss to a feather-bed!"
"Saunders!" a female voice said, 66 are ye sure that's Willie ?-it looks mair like an evil spirit! See till't! -just see till't! it's grown as big as the moon! This is waur than Willie, I trow; and, mair nor that, I dinna like the airt yere ganging; ye'll be into the peat-pots, the grun's growing saft already!"
"Whist, whist, woman!" I heard Saunders say, in a firmer voice. "Div
Ino ken ilka fit and fur o' this land? I hae dwalt in't since I was cock-bird high. Willie's gaun right for ance: yond's the candle in our spence window; awa' to the right lies the auld Tower o' Kirklebride; to the left lie the peat-pot holes ye are sae feared for."
At this moment I heard a loud plunge, and the voice of the English reaper exclaim,—
"He's plumped over the head in a brook, by Goles! That's Jack, by jingo! I knows 'im."
"Ye're wrang again, friend," said Saunders, "for I'm only up to the neck; and no in a brook either, but the foul pool in which we dub the lint. A'the Jacks o' England couldna play me sic a pliskie!"
I now ran up to the bewildered group, and found Saunders emerging from the deep peat-pot hole, with the green covering of the stagnant water about his shoulders like a mantle, and sputtering the moisture from his mouth.
"Bless us, Saunders!" I said; "how did ye let Will-o'-wisp mislead ye
"There now!" said Saunders to the English reaper, "ye'll believe it's Willie-o'wisp now, and nane o' yere Cumberland candles? How did I let Will mislead me, said ye? How did ye come to dig yere lint-dub sae close to the house as this? Answer me that! But I shouldna blame you; ye're owre young and owre carried to ken whilk end o' ye's up; I maun speak to your mother anent it.”
So saying he emerged slowly from the mud and water, and, with many a dripping step and many a groan, took his way homewards. Even as he went, Will-o'-wisp came close to us,-large and round, and danced to and fro, now on the grass, then in the air, but ever in the body of the thick and rolling mist.
Ay, ay!" exclaimed Saunders, ye may do yere warst or yere best now shine like a born deevil, or cut yere elfin capers amang the mist—but ye'se have me na mair at your mercy to-night. Gae awa' wi' ye, Maister Willie! and glimmer, and glower, and mislead some silly shepherd, who scarcely kens a horse's tail frae hawslock woo', or some tricky chapman, wha carries an ellwand a hale thumbreadth short, but dinna trow that
ye can draw the black clout ony mair owre Saunders's ee."
His confidence was great, but his mishaps were not yet at an end, though he was almost at the threshold of home; for a brighter and a more dazzling twinkle from Will and his wisp bewildered him so that, mistaking the midden-hole sprinkled over with dust and chaff for the solid ground, he was up to the knees in a mo→ ment; and, as he squattered through disturbing smells other than odorous, he exclaimed to the man of Cumberland, "God! this is an English Jacka-lantern after a'! A kindly Scots Willie wad hae been satisfied wi' ae joke, though a misleard ane, but a Southron spunkie is a' malice and mischief!"
We soon settled down around the fire. Saunders got change of apparel; and having purified his person from peat-hole and midden dub, and comforted his inner man with a reeking cheerer, he proceeded, while the thick mist rolled, and Willie with his wisp continued to triumph, to relate his whole lifetime of experience in spunkies, elfcandles, dead-lights, and will-o'wisps; concluding all with an assurance that such things "didna come for nought, and were na the accidental offspring of fire and inflammable air; nor yet a cauld, lifeless light, sic as was in a glow-worm's tail; but a real spelk, or spunk, of an evil spirit: and that with respect to the trials he had experienced this blessed night, it would be baith seen and heard of yet that the enemy of man's salvation had his finger, if not his hale hand, in't."
"Then I'm blessed," said the Southron authority in meteors, “if there's a spice of the devil at all in honest Jack. He's a quiet fellow; harmless as a lamb before weaning time; gives us his light, too, without expense; is as silent all the while as the northern star. I have often wished to catch a sucking Jack, and tame him for domestic purposes, but never could get one. They were birds too fiery in the wing, loved too much the mist for I,and to walk over quicksands and quagmires, wasting a precious light!"
Saunders turned eyes of respect and wonder on his Cumbrian comrade. "You Englishers," said he,
"though a vain and frivolous people, who love gain more than is meet for creatures wi' souls to be saved, and, waur than a', members of a lax and idolatrous kirk, have, nevertheless, the root of the matter in you. Wha would think that a people wha made idols o' their wames, and wad quarrel about a pudding in a clout, could have started sie a bright idea as this? It beats turning loch leeches into doctors, steam into a public servant ; and is worthy of that daring hand that caught and tamed the lightning of heaven, and made it useful. I'm tauld they sell it by the pound in the Carolinas, like dippit candles. And wherefore should we not endeavour to catch the wild and mischievous light called will-o'-wisp, and turn this fire of Satan-that I should say sae!--to wise and Christian purposes? I'll think on it. It wad be a limiting o' the rule of the Evil One, and doubtless acceptable."
The door, which in a lonesome country place is seldom shut, was now darkened by some one, who with hands and feet seemed to be feeling the way to the fireside. "Am I within biggit waas?" muttered this new comer. "Am I nigh a light kindled by Christian hands? Is this no a delusion? and am I doomed to wander the leelang night frae peat-pot hole to quagmire, and no get rest for the sole of my foot?"
"That's the voice of Willie Cork
ney," said my mother, "if ever I
heard it in my life, though it sounds rather howe and sture. Come ben, if ye be in the flesh !"
"Come ben!" exclaimed one of the harvest women: "I marvel that he dare look honest folk in the face, after his assurance in selling me a gown-piece a full ell and a thumbbreadth scrimp o' legal measure, as I am a sinner!"
These were words of no discomfort to Willie Corkney, a wandering dealer in matters of necessary attire or superfluous finery; for, to tell the truth, he was familiar with reproach, and sometimes deserved it, by the sleight-of-hand way in which he made his ellwand-a stick of legal length of itself, but not as he handled itskip over the printed cloth or figured riband.
"Indeed, gudewife," said Willie, with a woful and afflicted voice,