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Art. V.-Christopher North : a Memoir of John Wilson. By

Mrs. GORDON. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas. Those who have read Christopher North in his Sporting Jacket,' while the name of Christopher North was a household word, will approach these volumes with different feelings from the younger generation of readers, for they will recall a time when those diffusely eloquent pages were instinct with life, feeling, and poetry; when those rolling glowing sentences found their way straight to heart and fancy, and opened to view a new, free, and vivid world of thought and action. They cannot have the same effect now; for no one reads them under the same conditions. Poetry and prose alike have made their subjects familiar, while treating of them in another tone; and on all subjects of feeling and passion, it is those who first get possession of the youthful ear, who first awake a new and delightful train of thought, who are established as the truest or most suggestive interpreters of nature. After years will probably modify the first enthusiasm ; men learn to be critical and to see faults”; they may even wonder at the old illusion, but through it all they will acknowledge an influence upon themselves, which no later mind in that field has equalled; they will know that there are particular subjects, which are for ever coloured by that first strong impression. By those, then, who once read in the good faith of boyhood, the glorified idealized pictures of youth exulting in its strength;-of life, in the first bloom of feeling and perception, expatiating in nature's most congenial scenes, -which the poet's memory and fancy conjured up before their dawning imagination, some account of the magician who wrought the spell will be received with an interest quite different from the cool curiosity of those to whom Wilson and Christopher North are names which have still to make a way to their interest. And this difference may also affect their view of a character here only partially brought before them. Those who once ' heard his great language and caught his clear accents,' will see something higher than the reader who comes unbiassed to the perusal; to him Wilson may perhaps appear a very strange eccentric fellow, and not so much more, or better, or nobler, as his daughter piously designs to paint him. But to those who have long been familiar with his works, her testimony will be of especial value. Reports of a wild life, loose from ordinary checks, though held in some order by the ties of duty and affection, accompanied his great literary successes; these are not disproved, and probably furnish the difficulties Mrs. Gordon pleads to have beset her task; but she shows us substantial sterling qualities as the foundation of the character.

There is necessary incompleteness in every life undertaken by sons or daughters; but Wilson, of all others, needed an impartial biographer, or, at least, one who could give us all sides of the man, to enable us really to understand him. Many influences, which would account for his eccentricities and failures, are, we have no doubt, ignored; a veil thrown over them. It cannot well be otherwise. Still it is as honest a narrative as circumstances would admit, written with a desire to be fair, and that strong motive to candour, a faith in her father's loyal and noble qualities, which, to her mind, overbalanced all his errors ; and in the trust that a daughter's tender, loving enthusiasm will itself vouch for his excellence in those family and domestic relations which was sometimes brought in question, in seasons of political rancour and the local conflict of parties. Being what he was, in some points so wild and undisciplined, in some of his habits utterly regardless of custom and convention, it is certainly pleasant to read of him as the devoted, faithful, affectionate home-loving husband, and the kind father, who was not only fond of his children, but worked hard for them and studied their interests; though we feel that this favourable impression might have been produced at less expense than the publication of so many entirely dull, uninteresting, and trivial family letters. Those who first become acquainted with the man as a writer, through these letters to wife and daughters, will be puzzled to understand that "fire of the soul'—that masterly genius and passion-which are the apologies for what is strange or questionable in his character. They are, indeed, curiously free from any trace of those potent influences which it is assumed would not let him submit to any other control than that of the affections, and, on their first development, separated him not only from custom and social life as it came before him, but from his former self, and the habits implanted by education and natural bent. His epistolary style may be a relic of the former man, for he is described as orderly, demure, observant, of polite usage, trim in his attire, neat and intelligible in his handwriting, and precise in his ways till the deep fires of genius and passion awoke within him.

Then it was that, gifted with extraordinary bodily health, strength, and agility, all governed by high animal spirits, he found himself possessed of a mind of equal power in its own range, and with a soul, a memory, an utterance to give every thought expression, and was thus roused to an unbounded


sense of physical and intellectual power. This union or collision, for it was both, produced extraordinary results upon his writings, which depend for their charm, and take their whole colour, from the manner of life to which his bodily powers and high spirits prompted him; and upon his temper and disposition, which they moulded into an exuberant genial egotism. Apart from his passion for and success in bodily exercises, we feel that his genius could never have come to its full growth, or, at least, must have wrought for itself a wholly different vein, less hectoring and presumptuous, perhaps; but also not so wildly pleasant, so daring in its mirth and humour.

John Wilson was born in Paisley, in 1785, while Paisley had still some natural beauties to be praised. His father, a gauze manufacturer, was one of the principal inhabitants of the place, and accumulated a large fortune. John was the oldest son of ten children, all remarkable, it is said, for personal beauty, and all of whom seem to have taken a good place in the world; and he himself inherited from his father, who died when he was twelve years old, a fortune of fifty thousand pounds, which, however, some dozen years later, was wholly lost to him, through the culpable mismanagement of an uncle.

And in passing we may remark, that never did a great pecuniary loss seem to make less change in character and habits, and never was more lightly, cheerfully borne. There is a pleasant account of his first school days at the manse of Mearns, under the gentle tuition of the Rev. George M‘Latchie, its minister; here his love of sport, and out-door life, were at least as much fostered as his powers of learning. All acquainted with his writings, will recall with pleasure his first fish,' and his experiences when lost in the Scotch mist.

• Once it was feared that poor wee Kit was lost; for, having set off all by himself, at sunrise, to draw a night-line from the distant Black Loch, and look at a trap set for a glede, a mist overtook him on the moor, on his homeward way, with an eel as long as himself hanging over his shoulder, and held him prisoner for many hours within its shifting walls, frail indeed, and imposing no resistance to the hand, yet impenetrable to the feet of fear, as the stone dungeon's thraldom. If the mist had remained, that would have been nothing; only a still, cold, wet seat on a stone ; but as a “ trot becomes a gallop soon, in spite of curb and rein,” so a Scotch mist becomes a shower—and a shower a flood—and a flood a storm-and a storm a tempest—and a tempest thunder and lightning--and thunder and lightning heaven-quake and earth-quake—till the heart of poor wee Kit quaked, and almost died within him in the desert. In this age of confessions, we need not be ashamed to own, in the face of the whole world, that we sat down and cried ! The small brown moorland bird, as dry as a toast, hopped out of his heather-hole, and cheerfully chirped comfort. With crest just a thought lowered by the rain, the green-backed, whitebreasted peaseweep walked close by us in the mist; and, sight of wonder, that made, even in that quagmire, our heart beat with joy-lo! never seen before, and seldom since, three wee peaseweeps, not three days old, little bigger than shrew-mice, all covered with blackish down, interspersed with long white hairs, running after their mother! But the large hazel eye of the she peaseweep, restless even in the most utter solitude, soon spied us glowering at her, and her young ones, through our tears; and not for a moment doubting (Heaven forgive her for the shrewd but cruel suspicion) that we were Lord Eglinton's gamekeeper, with a sudden shrill cry that thrilled to the marrow in our cold backbone, flapped and fluttered herself away into the mist, while the little black bits of down disappeared, like devils, into the moss. The croaking of the frogs grew terrible; and, worse and worse, close at hand, seeking his lost cows through the mist, the bellow of the notorious red bull! We began saying our prayers; and just then the sun forced himself out into the open day, and, like the sudden opening of the shutters in a room, the whole world was filled with light. The frogs seem to sink among the pow-heads; as for the red bull that had tossed the tinker, he was cantering away, with his tail towards us, to a lot of cows on the hill ; and, hark-a long, a loud, and oft-repeated halloo ! Rab Roger, honest fellow, and Leezie Muir, honest lass, from the manse, in search of our dead body! Rab pulls our ears lightly, and Leezie kisses us from the one to the other, wrings the rain out of our long yellow hair (a pretty contrast to the small grey sprig now on the crown of our pericranium, and the thin tail acock behind); and by-and-by, stepping into Hazeldeanhead for a drap and a “chitterin' piece,” by the time we reach the manse we are as dry as a whistle-take our scold and our palmies from the minister—and, by way of punishment and penance, after a little hot whisky toddy, with brown sugar and a bit of bun, are bundled off to bed in the daytime!'-Vol. i. p. 12. His recollections of his boyhood are all in this glowing strain, and give the picture of a temperament, keenly susceptible of both pleasure and pain. His partings from favourite baunts, his family bereavements, reveal two things-a power of suffering, and the greatest of all reliefs to this sensitiveness, a power of expression. There is no quality so engaging as vivid feeling, vividly expressed. Wherever it is understood to exist, a sort of awe gathers round it. People, not professing to feel deeply themselves, take all imaginable care to spare the feeling of these exceptional beings; perhaps because they do not understand it. They are considered, as it were, meters, tests and guages of humanity. In the same way it is a general concern, that persons of this temper should enjoy themselves thoroughly whenever the occasion presents itself

, they do it so heartily. This sort of sympathy, all Wilson's more characteristic writing wins for him; it was one main element of his power over his readers; and his parting from the manse, and his boyish agony of grief at the death of a little sister, are condoled with as a pain, even to think of, by persons who make no demand on the pity of others for the dull sorrows of their own childhood ; though these might hang about their spirits the longer for being unexpressed. In looking back, we see that it was true of Wilson, 'the boy is father of the man,' and in every life spread out

will find a general Pantheism, in the Vedanta burning into Mysticism, in the Sânkhya freezing into Atheism. So in Greece, Heraclitus represents absolute Naturalism, Parmenides exclusive Theism. The Stoic philosophy, divinizing man with a sort of “heroic materialism,” carries on the Heraclitan solution. The Alexandrian school exaggerates the mysticism of Parmenides.

. Modern philosophy awoke with a dualism in Descartes~res cogitans and res extensa. Thought would reduce these terms to a unity. Hence, on the one hand, the system of Malebranche. God is the sole agent. Bodies are extension without power of motion. Souls are thinking automata. God's incessant, irresistible motion is the only life. This is mysticism. We have seen the meaning of Spinoza's Substance, Attribute, and Mode. It is Atheism.

‘Philosophy took a fresh start with Kant. But the result is just the same. The Kantian school had its Malebranche in Schelling, and its Spinoza in Hegel. From Schelling sprang Gærres and Baader, the mystic school of Munich. And the results of Schelling's philosophy, the “intellectual intuition” in which the soul becomes unified with the Divine Thought, is startlingly like Plotinus and the Alexandrians. From Hegel, on the other hand, issued the fearful Atheism of Oken and Feuerbach, and the still more dreadful anti-Theism of Schopenhauer.

* Thus modern Europe and the ancient East, Alexandria and Athens, France and Germany, point to the same conclusion.'

' II. 1. 2. Another admirable feature in the present work is the weight which it gives to every valid argument for the Personality and Government of God, except that from “universal consent,” which it has completely omitted. In a truth which has passed under so many hands, the philosopher finds an almost irresistible temptation to look after new arguments. But new arguments are not to be found, and those which are thought to be so, are but antiquated theories long since weighed and found wanting. Thus, the Cartesian proof was but Anselm's speculation, which had been confuted by Thomas Aquinas.

* M. Saisset's view of the whole argument, as stated in the new edition of the present work, is as follows:

• There are truths of intuition (volls), and of reasoning (diavola). The existence of God is a truth of intuition, like the existence of matter, or the fact of free-will. But as against Berkeley's idealism, or against irreligious fatalism, so against Atheism, reasoning is most useful refutatively:

- M. Saisset conceives the existence of God to be a truth of intuition. Fichte's principle, when rightly understood, is perfectly valid. “The Ego assumes itself in opposing to itself the Non-Ego.The finite supposes the infinite. Extension supposes first space, then immensity: duration supposes first time, then eternity. A sudden and irresistible judgment refers this to the necessary, infinite, perfect Being. We may formulate the proof in this proposition, “The imperfect being has its reason in the perfect Being.”. This is the proper and irrefragable Theistic proof. But the use of reasoning is to refute the Atheist, and bring him to a reductio ad absurdum ; and in this point of view, the finest exertions of the human intellect have their own proper functions.

* To the usual philosophical classifications of the Theistic proofs, M. Saisset prefers the historical order, which he arranges as follows:

1. The Socratic proof from final causes.
• 2. The Platonic argument from necessary and universal truths.

3. The Peripatetic proof from the primum mobile. 4. The Anselmian or ontological.

1 I have closely followed M. Saisset. Eclaircissement deuxième, tome ii. pp. 316-368. 2 Waterland—Dissertation upon the Argument a priori, chapter 3.

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