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{David Gray, and other Essays, chiefly on Poetry 1868}








Two friends, in interchange of heart and soul;
But suddenly Death changed his countenance,
And graved him in the darkness, far from me
                                           The Luggie, by DAVID GRAY.

Quem Di diligunt, adolescens moritur.


“He whom the gods love dies young.” From Plautus, Bacchides, IV, 7, 18.]






SITUATED in a by-road, about a mile from the small town of Kirkintilloch, and eight miles from the city of Glasgow, stands a cottage one storey high, roofed with slate, and surrounded by a little kitchen-garden. A whitewashed lobby, leading from the front to the back-door, divides this cottage into two sections; to the right, is a roof fitted up as a hand-loom weaver’s workshop; to the left is a kitchen paved with stone, and opening into a tiny carpeted bedroom.
     In the workshop, a father, daughter, and sons worked all day at the loom. In the kitchen, a handsome cheery Scottish matron busied herself like a thrifty housewife, and brought the rest of the family about her at meals. All day long the 64 soft hum of the loom was heard in the workshop; but when night came, mysterious doors were thrown open, and the family retired to sleep in extraordinary mural recesses.
     In this humble home, David Gray, a hand-loom weaver, resided for upwards of twenty years, and managed to rear a family of eight children—five boys and three girls. His eldest son, David, author of “The Luggie and other Poems,” is the hero of the present true history.
     David was born on the 29th of January, 1838. He alone, of all the little household, was destined to receive a decent education. From early childhood, the dark-eyed little fellow was noted for his wit and cleverness; and it was the dream of his father’s life that he should become a scholar. At the parish-school of Kirkintilloch he learned to read, write, and cast up accounts, and was, moreover, instructed in the Latin rudiments. Partly through the hard struggles of his parents, and partly through his own severe labours as a pupil-teacher and private tutor, he was afterwards enabled to attend the classes at the Glasgow University. In common with other rough country 65 lads, who live up dark alleys, subsist chiefly on oatmeal and butter forwarded from home, and eventually distinguish themselves in the classroom, he had to fight his way onward amid poverty and privation; but in his brave pursuit of knowledge nothing daunted him. It had been settled at home that he should become a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. Unfortunately, however, he had no love for the pulpit. Early in life he had begun to hanker after the delights of poetical composition. He had devoured the poets from Chaucer to Wordsworth. The yearnings thus awakened in him had begun to express themselves in many wild fragments—contributions, for the most part, to the poet’s-corner of a local newspaper—“The Glasgow Citizen.”
     Up to this point there was nothing extraordinary in the career or character of David Gray. Taken at his best, he was an average specimen of the persevering young Scottish student. But his soul contained wells of emotion which had not yet been stirred to their depths. When, at fourteen years of age, he began to study in Glasgow, it was his custom to go home every Saturday night 66 in order to pass the Sunday with his parents. These Sundays at home were chiefly occupied with rambles in the neighbourhood of Kirkintilloch; wanderings on the sylvan banks of the Luggie, the beloved little river which flowed close to his father’s door. On Luggieside awakened one day the dream which developed all the hidden beauty of his character, and eventually kindled all the faculties of his intellect. Had he been asked to explain the nature of this dream, David would have answered vaguely enough, but he would have said something to the following effect: “I’m thinking none of us are quite contented; there’s a climbing impulse to heaven in us all that won’t let us rest for a moment. Just now I would be happy if I knew a little more. I’d give ten years of life to see Rome, and Florence, and Venice, and the grand places of old; and to feel that I wasn’t a burden on the old folks. I’ll be a great man yet! and the old home, the Luggie and Gartshore wood, shall be famous for my sake.” He could only measure his ambition by the love he bore his home. “I was born, bred, and cared for here, and my folk are buried here. I 67 know every nook and dell for miles around, and they are all dear to me. My own mother and father dwell here, and in my own wee room” (the tiny carpeted bedroom above alluded to) “I first learned to read poetry. I love my home; and it is for my home’s sake that I love fame.”
     Nor were that home and its surroundings unworthy of such love. Tiny and unpretending as is Luggie stream, upon its banks lie many nooks of beauty, bowery glimpses of woodland, shady solitudes, places of nestling green for poets made. Not far off stretch the Campsie fells, with dusky nooks between, where the waterfall and the cascade make a silver pleasure in the heart of shadow; and beyond, there are dreamy glimpses of the misty blue mountains themselves. Away to the south-west, lies Glasgow in its smoke, most hideous of cities, wherein the very clangour of church-bells is associated with abominations. Into the heart of that city David was to be slowly drawn, subject to a fascination only death could dispel,—the desire to make deathless music, and the dream of moving therewith the mysterious heart of man.
     68 At twenty-one years of age, when this dream was strong within him, David was a tall young man, slightly but firmly built, and with a stoop at the shoulders. His head was small, fringed with black curly hair. Want of candour was not his fault, though he seldom looked one in the face; his eyes, however, were large and dark, full of intelligence and humour, harmonizing well with the long thin nose and nervous lips. The great black eyes and woman’s mouth betrayed the creature of impulse; one whose reasoning faculties were small, but whose temperament was like red-hot coal. He sympathized with much that was lofty, noble, and true in poetry, and with much that was absurd and suicidal in the poet. He carried sympathy to the highest pitch of enthusiasm; he shed tears over the memories of Keats and Burns, and he was corybantic in his execution of a Scotch “reel.” A fine phrase filled him with the rapture of a lover. He admired extremes—from Rabelais to Tom Sayers. Thirsting for human sympathy, which lured him in the semblance of notoriety, he perpetrated all sorts of extravagancies, innocent enough in themselves, 69 but calculated to blind him to the very first principles of art. Yet this enthusiasm, as I have suggested, was his safeguard in at least one respect. Though he believed himself to be a genius, he loved the parental roof of the hand-loom weaver.
     And what thought the weaver and his wife of this wonderful son of theirs? They were proud of him, proud in a silent undemonstrative fashion; for among the Scottish poor concealment of the emotions is held a virtue. During his weekly visits home, David was not overwhelmed with caresses; but he was the subject of conversation night after night, when the old couple talked in bed. Between him and his father there had arisen a strange barrier of reserve. They seldom exchanged with each other more than a passing word; but to one friend’s bosom David would often confide the love and tenderness he bore for his over-worked, upright parent. When the boy first began to write verses the old man affected perfect contempt and indifference, but his eyes gloated in secret over the poet’s-corners of the Glasgow newspapers. The poor weaver, though 70 an uneducated man, had a profound respect for education and cultivation in others. He felt his heart bound with hope and joy when strangers praised the boy, but he hid the tenderness of his pride under a cold indifference. Although proud of David’s talent for writing verses, he was afraid to encourage a pursuit which practical common sense assured him was mere trifling. At a later date he might have spoken out, had not his tongue been frozen by the belief that advice from him would be held in no esteem by his better educated and more gifted son. Thus, the more David’s indications of cleverness and scholarship increased, the more afraid was the old man to express his gratification and give his advice. Equally touching was the point of view taken by David’s mother, whose cry was, “The kirk, the free kirk, and nothing but the kirk!” She neither appreciated nor underrated the abilities of her boy, but her proudest wish was that he should become a real live minister, with home and “haudin’” of his own. To see David,—“our David,”—in a pulpit, preaching the Gospel out of a big book, and dwelling in a good house to the end of his days!
     71 But meantime the boy was swiftly undermining all such cherished plans. He had saturated his heart and mind with the intoxicating wines of poesy,—drunken deep of such syrups as only very strong heads indeed can carry calmly. He differed from older and harder poets in this only,—that he had not the trick of disguising his vanity, knew not how to ape humility. The poor lad was moved, maddened by the strange divine light in his eyes, and he cried aloud: “The beauty of the cloudland I have visited! the ideal love of my soul!” Thus he expressed himself, much to the amusement of his hearers. “Solitude,” he exclaimed on another occasion, “and an utter want of all physical exercise, are working deplorable ravages in my nervous system; the crows’-feet are blackening about my eyes, and I cannot think to face the sunlight. When I ponder over my own inability to move the world, to move one heart in it, no wonder that my face gathers blackness. Tennyson beautifully and (so far) truly says, that the face is ‘the form and colour of the mind and life.’ If you saw me!” His verses written at that period, although abounding with echoes of his 72 two pet poets, show great intensity and the sweetness of perfect feeling. Some of the lyrics in his volume, printed among the Poems Named and without Names, belong to this period. His productions, however, were for the most part close reproductions of the manner of Keats; and so conscious was he of this fact, that in one of these pieces he expressly styled himself, “a foster son of Keats, the dreamily divine.” Wordsworth he did not reproduce so much until a later and a purer period. One of these unpublished pieces I shall quote here, to show that David, even at the crude assimilate period, showed “brains” and vision noticeable in a youth of twenty.


                     “He who to be deem’d
A god, leap’d fondly into Ætna flames,—

How, in the crystal smooth and azure sky,
Droop the clear, living sapphires, tremulous
And inextinguishably beautiful!
How the calm irridescence of their soft
Ethereal fire contrasts with the wild flame
Rising from this doomed mountain like the noise
Of ocean whirlwinds through the murky air!                                     73
Alone, alone! yearning, ambitious ever!
Hope’s agony! O, ye immortal gods!
Regally sphered in your keen-silvered orbs,
Eternal, where fled that authentic fire,
Stolen by Prometheus ere the pregnant clouds
Rose from the sea, full of the deluge! Where
Art thou, white lady of the morning; white
Aurora, charioted by the fair Hours
Through amethystine mists weeping soft dews
Upon the meadow, as Apollo heaves
His constellation through the liquid dawn?
Give me Tithonus’ gift, thou orient
Undying Beauty! and my love shall be
Cherubic worship, and my star shall walk
The plains of heaven, thy punctual harbinger!
O with thy ancient power prolong my days
For ever; tear this flesh-thick cursed life
Enlinking me to this foul earth, the home
Of cold mortality, this nether hell!
     Rise, mighty conflagrations! and scare wild
These crowding shadows! Far on the dim sea
Pale mariners behold thee, and the sails
Shine purpled by thy glare, and the slow oars
Drop ruby, and the trembling human souls
Wonder affrighted as their pitchy barks,
Guided by Syrian pilots, ripple by
Hailing for craggy Calpe;
O, ye frail
Weak human souls, I, lone Empedocles,
Stand here unshivered as a steadfast god,
Scorning thy puny destinies.
                                               I float                                              74
To cloud-enrobed Olympus on the wings
Of a rich dream, swift as the light of stars,
Swifter than Zophiel or Mercury
Upon his throne of adamantine gold.—
Jove sits superior, while the deities
Tread delicate the smooth cerulean floors.
Hebe, (with twin breasts, like twin roes that feed
Among the lilies), in her taper hand
Bears the bright goblet, rough with gems and gold,
Filled with ambrosia to the lipping brim.
O, love and beauty and immortal life!
O, light divine, ethereal effluence
Of purity! O, fragrancy of air,
Spikenard and calamus, cassia and balm,
With all the frankincense that ever fumed
From temple censers swung from pictured roofs,
Float warmly through the corridors of heaven.

Hiss! moan! shriek! wreath thy livid serpentine
Volutions, O ye earth-born flames! and flout
The silent skies with strange fire, like a dawn
Rubific, terrible, a lurid glare!
Olympus shrinks beside thee! I, alone,
Like deity ignipotent, behold
Thy playful whirls and thy weird melody
Hear undismayed. O gods! shall I go near
And in the molten horror headlong plunge
Deathward, and that serene immortal life
Discover? Shriek your hellish discord out
Into the smoky firmament! Down roll
Your fat bituminous torrents to the sea,                                             75
Hot hissing! Far away in element
Untroubled rise the crystal battlements
Of the celestial mansion, where to be
Is my ambition; and O far away
From this dull earth in azure atmospheres
My star shall pant its silvery lustre, bright
With sempiternal radiance, voyaging
On blissful errands the pure marble air.

O, dominations and life-yielding powers,
Listen my yearning prayer: To be of ye—
Of thy grand hierarchy and old race
Plenipotent, I do a deed that dares
The draff of men to equal. You have given
Immortal life to common human men
Who common deeds achieved; nay, even for love
Some goddesses voluptuous have raised
Weak whiners from this curst sublunar world,
Pillowed them on snow bosoms in the bowers
Of Paradise! And shall Empedocles,
Who from the perilous grim edge of life
Leaps sheer into the liquid fire and meets
Death like a lover, not be sphered and made
A virtue ministrant? All you soft orbs
By pure intelligences piloted,
Incomprehensibly their glories show
Approving. O ye sparkle-moving fires
Of heaven, now silently above the flare
Of this red mountain shining, which of you
Shall be my home?
Into whose stellar glow
Shall I arrive, bringing delight and life                                                76
And spiritual motion and dim fame?
Hiss, fiery serpents! Your sweet breathings warm
My face as I approach ye. Flap wild wings,
Ye dragons! flaming round this mouth of hell,
To me the mouth of heaven.

     The influence of Keats soon decayed, and calmer influences supervened. He began a play on the Shakespearian model. This ambitious effort, however, was soon relinquished for a dearer, sweeter task,—the composition of a pastoral poem descriptive of the scenery surrounding his home. This subject, first suggested to him by a friend who guessed his real power, grew upon him with wondrous force, till the lines welled into perfect speech through very deepness of passion. His whole soul was occupied. The pictures that had troubled his childhood, the running river, the thymy Campsie fells, were now to live again before his spirit; and all the human sweetness and trouble, the beloved faces, the familiar human figures, stirred to the soft music of a flowing river and the distant hum of looms from cottage doors. The result was the poem entitled “The Luggie,” 77 which gives its name to the posthumous volume, and which, though it lacked the last humanizing touches of the poet, remains unique in contemporary literature.
     But even while his heart was full of this exquisite utterance, this babble of green fields and silver waters, the influence of cities was growing more and more upon him, and poesy was no more the quite perfect joy that had made his boyhood happy. It was not enough to sing now; the thirst for applause was deepening; and it is not therefore extraordinary that even his fresh and truthful pastoral shows here and there the hectic flush of self-consciousness,—the dissatisfied glance in the direction of the public. The natural result of this was occasional merry-making, and grog-drinking, and beating the big city during the dark hours. There was high poetic pleasure in singing songs among artizans in familiar public-houses, flirting with an occasional milliner, and singing her charms in broad Scotch,—even occasionally coming to fisticuffs in obscure places, possibly owing to a hot discussion on the character of that demon of religious Scotch artizans,—the 78 poet Shelley. I do not hesitate the least in mentioning these matters, because Gray has been too frequently represented as a morbid, unwholesome young gentleman, without natural weaknesses—a kind of aqueous Henry Kirke White, brandied faintly with ambition. He was nothing of the kind. He was a young man, as other young men are—foolish and wild in his season, though never gross or disreputable. The very excess of his sensitiveness led him into outbreaks against convention. While pouring out the sweetness of his nature in “The Luggie,” he could turn aside again and again, and relieve his excitement by such doggrel as this, addressed to a companion,—

Let olden Homer, hoary,
Sing of wondrous deeds of glory,
In that ever-burning story,
     Bold and bright, friend Bob!
Our theme be Pleasure, careless,
In all stirring frolics fearless,
In the vineyard, reckless, peerless,
     Heroes dight, friend Bob!

Be it noted, however, that there was in Gray’s nature a strange and exquisite femininity,—a perfect feminine purity and sweetness. Indeed, 79 till the mystery of sex be medically explained, I shall ever believe that nature originally meant David Gray for a female; for besides the strangely sensitive lips and eyes, he had a woman’s shape,—narrow shoulders, lissome limbs, and extraordinary breadth across the hips.
     Early in his teens David had made the acquaintance of a young man of Glasgow, with whom his fortunes were destined to be intimately woven. That young man was myself. We spent year after year in intimate communion, varying the monotony of our existence by reading books together, plotting great works, writing extravagant letters to men of eminence, and wandering about the country on vagrant freaks. Whole nights and days were often passed in seclusion, in reading the great thinkers, and pondering on their lives. Full of thoughts too deep for utterance, dreaming, David would walk at a swift pace through the crowded streets, with face bent down, and eyes fixed on the ground, taking no heed of the human beings passing to and fro. Then he would come to me crying, “I have had a dream,” and would forthwith tell of visionary 80 pictures which had haunted him in his solitary walk. This “dreaming” as he called it, consumed the greater portion of his hours of leisure.
     Towards the end of the year 1859, David became convinced that he could no longer idle away the hours of his youth. His work as student and as pupil-teacher was ended, and he must seek some means of subsistence. He imagined, too, that his poor parents threw dull looks on the beggar of their bounty. Having abandoned all thoughts of entering into the Church, for which neither his taste nor his opinions fitted him, what should he do in order to earn his daily bread? His first thought was to turn schoolmaster; but no! the notion was an odious one. He next endeavoured, without success, to procure himself a situation on one of the Glasgow newspapers. Meantime, while drifting from project to project he maintained a voluminous correspondence, in the hope of persuading some eminent man to read his poem of “The Luggie.”
     Unfortunately, the persons to whom he wrote were too busy to pay much attention to the solicitations 81 of an entire stranger. Repeated disappointments only increased his self-assertion; the less chance there seemed of an improvement in his position, and the less strangers seemed to recognize his genius, the more dogged grew his conviction that he was destined to be a great poet. His letters were full of this conviction. To one entire stranger he wrote: “I am a poet; let that be understood distinctly.” Again: “I tell you that, if I live, my name and fame shall be second to few of any age, and to none of my own. I speak this because I feel power.” Again: “I am so accustomed to compare my own mental progress with that of such men as Shakespeare, Goethe, and Wordsworth, that the dream of my life will not be fulfilled, if my fame equal not, at least, that of the latter of these three!” This was extraordinary language, and it is not surprising that little heed was paid to it. Let some explanation be given here. No man could be more humble, reverent-minded, self-doubting, than David was in reality. Indeed, he was constitutionally timid of his own abilities, and he was personally diffident. In 82 his letters only he absolutely endeavoured to wrest from his correspondents some recognition of his claim to help and sympathy. The moment sympathy came, no matter how coldly it might be expressed, he was all humility and gratitude. In this spirit, after one of his wildest flights of self-assertion, he wrote: “When I read Thomson, I despair.” Again: “Being bare of all recommendations, I lied with my own conscience, deeming that if I called myself a great man you were bound to believe me.” Again: “If you saw me you would wonder if the quiet, bashful, boyish-looking fellow before you was the author of all yon blood and thunder.” In a lengthy correspondence with Mr. Sydney Dobell, who is also known as a writer of verse, David wrote wildly and boldly enough; but he was quite ready to plead guilty to silliness when the fits were over. But the grip of cities was on him, and he was far too conscious of outsiders. How sad and pitiable sounds the following! “Mark!” he cried, “it is not what I have done, or can now do, but what I feel myself able and born to do, that makes me so selfishly stupid. Your sentence, 83 thrown back to me for reconsideration, would certainly seem strange to any one but myself; but the thought that I had so written to you only made me the more resolute in my actions, and the wilder in my visions. What if I sent the same sentence back to you again, with the quiet stern answer, that it is my intention to be the ‘first poet of my own age,’ and second only to a very few of any age. Would you think me ‘mad,’ ‘drunk,’ or an ‘idiot,’ or my ‘self-confidence’ one of the ‘saddest paroxysms?’ When my biography falls to be written, will not this same self-confidence be one of the most striking features of my intellectual development? Might not a poet of twenty feel great things? In all the stories of mental warfare that I have ever read, that mind which became of celestial clearness and godlike power did nothing for twenty years but feel.” The hand-loom weaver’s son raving about his “biography!” The youth that could babble so deliciously of green fields looking forward to the day when he would be anatomized by the small critic and chronicled by the chroniclers of small beer! It was not in this mood that 84 he wrote his sweetest lines. The world was already too much with him.
     Here, if anywhere in his career, I see signs which console me for his bitter suffering and too early death; signs that, had he lived, his fate might have been an even sadder one. Saint Beuve says, as quoted by Alfred de Musset:—

Il existe, en un mot, chez les trois quarts des hommes,
Un poëte mort jeune à qui l’homme survit!

     A dead young poet whom the man survives!—and dead through that very poison which David was beginning to taste. I dare not aver that such would have been the result; I dare not say that David’s poetic instinct was too weak to survive the danger. But the danger existed—clear, sparkling, deathly. Had David been hurried away to teach schools among the hills, buried among associations pure and green as those that surrounded his youth and childhood, the poetic instinct might have survived and achieved wondrous results. But he went southward,—he imbibed an atmosphere entirely unfitted for his soul at that period; and—perhaps, after all, the gods loved him and knew best.
     For all at once there flashed upon David and 85 myself the notion of going to London, and taking the literary fortress by storm. Again and again we talked the project over, and again and again we hesitated. In the spring of 1860, we both found ourselves without an anchorage; each found it necessary to do something for daily bread. For some little time the London scheme had been in abeyance; but, on the 3rd of May, 1860, David came to me, his lips firmly compressed, his eyes full of fire, saying, “Bob, I’m off to London.” “Have you funds?” I asked. “Enough for one, not enough for two,” was the reply. “If you can get the money anyhow, we’ll go together.” On parting, we arranged to meet on the evening of the 5th of May, in time to catch the five o’clock train. Unfortunately, however, we neglected to specify which of the two Glasgow stations was intended. At the hour appointed, David left Glasgow by one line of railway, in the belief that I had been unable to join him, but determined to try the venture alone. With the same belief and determination, I left at the same hour by the other line of railway. We arrived in different parts of London at about the same time. Had we left Glasgow in company, or had we met immediately 86 after our arrival in London, the story of David’s life might not have been so brief and sorrowful.
     Though the month was May, the weather was dark, damp, cloudy. On arriving in the metropolis, David wandered about for hours, carpet-bag in hand. The magnitude of the place overwhelmed him; he was lost in that great ocean of life. He thought about Johnson and Savage, and how they wandered through London with pockets more empty than his own; but already he longed to be back in the little carpeted bedroom in the weaver’s cottage. How lonely it seemed! Among all that mist of human faces there was not one to smile in welcome; and how was he to make his trembling voice heard above the roar and tumult of those streets? The very policemen seemed to look suspiciously at the stranger. To his sensitively Scottish ear the language spoken seemed quite strange and foreign; it had a painful, homeless sound about it that sank nervously on the heart-strings. As he wandered about the streets he glanced into coffee-shop after coffee-shop, seeing “beds” 87 ticketed in each fly-blown window. His pocket contained a sovereign and a few shillings, but he would need every penny. Would not a bed be useless extravagance? he asked himself. Certainly. Where, then, should he pass the night? In Hyde Park! He had heard so much about this part of London that the name was quite familiar to him. Yes, he would pass the night in the park. Such a proceeding would save money, and be exceedingly romantic; it would be just the right sort of beginning for a poet’s struggle in London! So he strolled into the great park, and wandered about its purlieus till morning. In remarking upon this foolish conduct, one must reflect that David was strong, heartsome, full of healthy youth. It was a frequent boast of his that he scarcely ever had a day’s illness. Whether or not his fatal complaint was caught during this his first night in London is uncertain, but some few days afterwards David wrote thus to his father: “By-the-bye, I have had the worst cold I ever had in my life. I cannot get it away properly, but I feel a great deal better to-day.” Alas! violent cold had settled down upon his lungs, 88 and insidious death was already slowly approaching him. So little conscious was he of his danger, however, that I find him writing to a friend: “What brought me here? God knows, for I don’t. Alone in such a place is a horrible thing. . . . People don’t seem to understand me. . . . Westminster Abbey; I was there all day yesterday. If I live I shall be buried there—so help me God! A completely defined consciousness of great poetical genius is my only antidote against utter despair and despicable failure.”
     I suppose his purposes in coming to Babylon were about as definite as my own had been, although he had the advantage of being qualified as a pupil teacher. We tossed ourselves on the great waters as two youths who wished to learn to swim, and trusted that by diligent kicking we might escape drowning. There was the prospect of getting into a newspaper office. Again, there was the prospect of selling a few verses. Thirdly, if everything failed, there was the prospect of getting into one of the theatres as supernumeraries.*

—    * Each of the friends, indeed, unknown to each other, actually applied for such a situation; and one succeeded. —

89 Beyond all this, there was of course the dim prospect that London would at once, and with acclamations, welcome the advent of true genius, albeit with seedy garments and a Scotch accent. It doubtless never occurred to either that besides mere “consciousness” of power, some other things were necessary for a literary struggle in London—special knowledge, capability of interesting oneself in trifles, and the pen of a ready writer. What were David’s qualifications for a fight in which hundreds miserably fail year after year? Considerable knowledge of Greek, Latin, and French, great miscellaneous reading, a clerkly handwriting, and a bold purpose. Slender qualifications, doubtless, but while life lasted, there was hope.
     We did not meet until upwards of a week after our arrival in London, though each had soon been apprised of the other’s presence in the city. Finally we came together, David’s first impulse was to describe his lodgings, situated in a by-street in the Borough. “A cold, cheerless bedroom, Bob; nothing but a blanket to cover me. For God’s sake get me out of it!” We were 90 walking side by side in the neighbourhood of the New Cut, looking about us with curious puzzled eyes, and now and then drawing each other’s attention to sundry objects of interest. “Have you been well?” I inquired. “First-rate,” answered David, looking as merry as possible. Nor did he show any indications whatever of illness; he seemed hopeful, energetic, full of health and spirits; his sole desire was to change his lodging. It was not without qualms that he surveyed the dingy, smoky neighbourhood where I resided. The sun was shedding dismal crimson light on the chimney-pots, and the twilight was slowly thickening. We climbed up three flights of stairs to my bedroom; dingy as it was, this apartment seemed, in David’s eyes, quite a palatial sanctum; and it was arranged that we should take up our residence together. As speedily as possible I procured David’s little stock of luggage; then, settled face to face as in old times, we made very merry.
     My first idea, on questioning David about his prospects, was that my friend had had the best of luck. You see, the picture drawn on either side 91 was a golden one; but the brightness soon melted away. It turned out that David, on arriving in London, had sought out certain gentlemen whom he had formerly favoured with his correspondence, among others Mr. Richard Monckton Milnes, now Lord Houghton, Though not a little astonished at the appearance of the boy-poet, Mr. Milnes had received him kindly, assisted him to the best of his power, and made some work for him in the shape of manuscript-copying. The same gentleman had also used his influence with literary people,—to very little purpose, however. The real truth turned out to be that David was disappointed and low-spirited. “It’s weary work, Bob; they don’t understand me; I wish I was back in Glasgow.” It was now that David told me all about that first day and night in London, and how he had already begun a poem about “Hyde Park;” how Mr. Milnes had been good to him, had said that he was “a poet,” but had insisted on his going back to Scotland and becoming a minister. David did not at all like the notion of returning home. He thought he had every chance of making his way in London. 92 About this time he was bitterly disappointed by the rejection of “The Luggie” by Mr. Thackeray, to whom Mr. Milnes had sent it, with a recommendation that it should be inserted in the “Cornhill Magazine.”
     Lord Houghton briefly and vividly describes his intercourse with the young poet in London. He had written to Gray strongly urging him not to make the hazardous experiment of a literary life, but to aim after a professional independence. “A few weeks afterwards,” he writes, “I was told that a young man wished to see me, and when he came into the room I at once saw that it could be no other than the young Scotch Poet. It was a light, well-built, but somewhat stooping figure, with a countenance that at once brought strongly to my recollection a cast of the face of Shelley in his youth, which I had seen at Mr. Leigh Hunt’s. There was the same full brow, out-looking eyes, and sensitive melancholy mouth. He told me at once that he had come to London in consequence of my letter, as from the tone of it he was sure I should befriend him. I was dismayed at this unexpected result of my 93 advice, and could do no more than press him to return home as soon as possible. I painted as darkly as I could the chances and difficulties of a literary struggle in the crowded competition of this great city, and how strong a swimmer it required to be not to sink in such a sea of tumultuous life. ‘No, he would not return.’ I determined in my own mind that he should do so before I myself left town for the country, but at the same time I believed that he might derive advantage from a short personal experience of hard realities. He had confidence in his own powers, a simple certainty of his own worth, which I saw would keep him in good heart and preserve him from base temptations. He refused to take money, saying he had enough to go on with; but I gave him some light literary work, for which he was very grateful. When he came to me again, I went over some of his verse with him, and I shall not forget the passionate gratification he showed when I told him that, in my judgment, he was an undeniable poet. After this admission he was ready to submit to my criticism or correction, though he was sadly depressed at the rejection of one of 94 his poems, over which he had evidently spent much labour and care, by the editor of a distinguished popular periodical, to whom I had sent it with a hearty recommendation. His, indeed, was not a spirit to be seriously injured by a temporary disappointment; but when he fell ill so soon afterwards, one had something of the feeling of regret that the notorious review of Keats inspires in connection with the premature loss of the author of ‘Endymion.’ It was only a few weeks after his arrival in London, that the poor boy came to my house apparently under the influence of violent fever. He said he had caught cold in the wet weather, having been insufficiently protected by clothing; but had delayed coming to me for fear of giving me unnecessary trouble. I at once sent him back to his lodgings, which were sufficiently comfortable, and put him under good medical superintendence. It soon became apparent that pulmonary disease had set in, but there were good hopes of arresting its progress. I visited him often, and every time with increasing interest. He had somehow found out that his lungs were affected, and the image of the destiny of Keats was ever before him.”
     95 It has been seen that Mr. Milnes was the first to perceive that the young adventurer was seriously ill. After a hurried call on his patron one day in May, David rejoined me in the near neighbourhood. “Milnes says I’m to go home and keep warm, and he’ll send his own doctor to me.” This was done. The doctor came, examined David’s chest, said very little, and went away, leaving strict orders that the invalid should keep within doors, and take great care of himself. Neither David nor I liked the expression of the doctor’s face at all.
     It soon became evident that David’s illness was of a most serious character. Pulmonary disease had set in; medicine, blistering, all the remedies employed in the early stages of his complaint, seemed of little avail. Just then David read the “Life of John Keats,” a book which impressed him with a nervous fear of impending dissolution. He began to be filled with conceits droller than any he had imagined in health. “If I were to meet Keats in heaven,” he said one day, “I wonder if I should know his face from his pictures?” Most frequently his talk was of labour uncompleted, hope deferred; and he began to 96 pant for free country air. “If I die,” he said on a certain occasion, “I shall have one consolation,—Milnes will write an introduction to the poems.” At another time, with tears in his eyes, he repeated Burns’s epitaph. Now and then, too, he had his fits of frolic and humour, and would laugh and joke over his unfortunate position. It cannot be said that Mr. Milnes and his friends were at all lukewarm about the case of their young friend; on the contrary, they gave him every practical assistance. Mr. Milnes himself, full of the most delicate sympathy, trudged to and fro between his own house and the invalid’s lodging; his pockets laden with jelly and beef-tea, and his tongue tipped with kindly comfort. Had circumstances permitted, he would have taken the invalid into his own house. Unfortunately, however, David was compelled to remain, in company with me, in a chamber which seemed to have been constructed peculiarly for the purpose of making the occupants as uncomfortable as possible. There were draughts everywhere: through the chinks of the door, through the windows, down the chimney, and up through the flooring. When 97 the wind blew, the whole tenement seemed on the point of crumbling to atoms; when the rain fell, the walls exuded moisture; when the sun shone, the sunshine only served to increase the characteristic dinginess of the furniture. Occasional visitors, however, could not be fully aware of these inconveniences. It was in the night-time, and in bad weather, that they were chiefly felt; and it required a few days’ experience to test the superlative discomfort of what David (in a letter written afterwards) styled “the dear old ghastly bankrupt garret.” His stay in these quarters was destined to be brief. Gradually, the invalid grew homesick. Nothing would content him but a speedy return to Scotland. He was carefully sent off by train, and arrived safely in his little cottage-home far north. Here all was unchanged as ever. The beloved river was flowing through the same fields, and the same familiar faces were coming and going on its banks; but the whole meaning of the pastoral pageant had changed, and the colour of all was deepening towards the final sadness.
     Great, meanwhile, had been the commotion in 98 the handloom weaver’s cottage, after the receipt of this bulletin: “I start off to-night at five o’clock by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, right on to London, in good health and spirits.” A great cry arose in the household. He was fairly “daft;” he was throwing away all his chances in the world; the verse-writing had turned his head. Father and mother mourned together. The former, though incompetent to judge literary merit of any kind, perceived that David was hot-headed, only half-educated, and was going to a place where thousands of people were starving daily. But the suspense was not to last long. The darling son, the secret hope and pride, came back to the old people, sick to death. All rebuke died away before the pale sad face and the feeble tottering body; and David was welcomed to the cottage hearth with silent prayers.
     It was now placed beyond a doubt that the disease was one of mortal danger; yet David, surrounded again by his old cares, busied himself with many bright and delusive dreams of ultimate recovery. Pictures of a pleasant dreamy convalescence in a foreign clime floated before him morn and night, 99 and the fairest and dearest of the dreams was Italy. Previous to his departure for London he had concocted a wild scheme for visiting Florence, and throwing himself on the poetical sympathy of Robert Browning. He had even thought of enlisting in the English Garibaldian corps, and by that means gaining his cherished wish. “How about Italy?” he wrote to me, after returning home. “Do you still entertain its delusive notions? Pour out your soul before me; I am as a child.” All at once a new dream burst upon him. A local doctor insisted that the invalid should be removed to a milder climate, and recommended Natal. In a letter full of coaxing tenderness, David besought me, for the sake of old days, to accompany him thither. I answered indecisively, but immediately made all endeavours to grant my friend’s wish. Meantime I received the following:—

“Merkland, Kirkintollock,
         “10th November, 1860.

“Your letter causes me some uneasiness; not but that your numerous objections are numerous and 100 vital enough, but they convey the sad and firm intelligence that you cannot come with me. It is absolutely impossible for you to raise a sum sufficient! Now you know it is not necessary that I should go to Natal; nay, I have, in very fear, given up the thoughts of it; but we—or I—could go to Italy or Jamaica—this latter, as I learn, being the more preferable. Nor has there been any ‘crisis’ come, as you say. I would cause you much trouble (forgive me for hinting this), but I believe we could be happy as in the dear old times. Dr. —— (whose address I don’t know) supposes that I shall be able to work(?) when I reach a more genial climate; and if that should prove the result, why, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. But the matter of money bothers me. What I wrote to you was all hypothetical, i. e. things have been carried so far, but I have not heard whether or no the subscription had been gone on with. And, supposing for one instant the utterly preposterous supposition that I had money to carry us both, then comes the second objection—your dear mother! I am not so far gone, though 101 I fear far enough, to ignore that blessed feeling. But if it were for your good? Before God, if I thought it would in any way harm your health (that cannot be) or your hopes, I would never have mooted the proposal. On the contrary, I feel from my heart it would benefit you; and how much would it not benefit me? But I am baking without flour. The cash is not in my hand, and I fear never will be; the amount I would require is not so easily gathered.
     “Dobell * is again laid up. He is at the Isle of Wight, at some establishment called the Victoria Baths. I am told that his friends deem his life in constant danger. He asks for your address. I shall send it only to-day; wait until you hear what he has got to say. He would prefer me to go to Brompton Hospital. I would

—    Sydney Dobell, author of “Balder,” “The Roman,” &c. This gentleman’s kindness to David, whom he never saw, is beyond all praise. Nor was the invalid ungrateful. “Poor, kind, half-immortal spirit here below,” wrote David, alluding to Dobell, “shall I know thee when we meet new-born into eternal existence? . . . Dear friend Bob, did you ever know a nobler? I cannot get him out of my mind. I would write to him daily would it not pest him.” —

102 go anywhere for a change. If I don’t get money somehow or somewhere I shall die of ennui. A weary desire for change, life, excitement of every, any kind, possesses me, and without you what am I? There is no other person in the world whom I could spend a week with, and thoroughly enjoy it. Oh, how I desire to smoke a cigar, and have a pint and a chat with you.
     “By the way, how are you getting on? Have you lots to do? and well paid for it? Or is life a lottery with you? and the tea-caddy a vacuum? and—a snare? and—a nightmare? Do you dream yet, on your old rickety sofa in the dear old ghastly bankrupt garret at No. 66? Write to yours eternally,                                                                                                                                                                                                         “DAVID GRAY.”

     The proposal to go abroad was soon abandoned, partly because the invalid began to evince a nervous home-sickness, but chiefly because it was impossible to raise a sufficient sum of money. Yet be it never said that this youth was denied the extremest loving sympathy and care. As I look back on those days it is to me a glad wonder that so many tender faces, many of them 103 quite strange, clustered round his sick-bed. When it is reflected that he was known only as a poor Scotch lad, that even his extraordinary lyric faculty was as yet only half-guessed, if guessed at all, the kindness of the world through his trouble is extraordinary. Milnes, Dobell, Dobell’s lady-friends at Hampstead, tired never in devising plans for the salvation of the poor consumptive invalid,—goodness which sprang from the instincts of the heart itself, and not from that intellectual benevolence which invests in kind deeds with a view to a bonus from the Almighty.
     The best and tenderest of people, however, cannot always agree; and in this case there was too much discussion and delay. Some recommended the long sea-voyage; one doctor recommended Brompton Hospital; Milnes suggested Torquay in Devonshire. Meantime, Gray, for the most part ignorant of the discussions that were taking place, besought his friends on all hands to come to his assistance. Late in November he addressed the editor of a local newspaper with whom he was personally acquainted, and who had taken interest in his affairs:—
     104 “I write you in a certain commotion of mind, and may speak wrongly. But I write to you because I know that it will take much to offend you when no offence is meant; and when the probable offence will proceed from youthful heat and frantic foolishness. It may be impertinent to address you, of whom I know so little, and yet so much; but the severe circumstances seem to justify it.
     “The medical verdict pronounced upon me is certain and rapid death if I remain at Merkland. That is awful enough, even to a brave man. But there is a chance of escape; as a drowning man grasps at a straw I strive for it. Good, kind, true Dobell writes me this morning the plans for my welfare which he has put in progress, and which most certainly meet my wishes. They are as follows: Go immediately, and as a guest to the house of Dr. Lane, in the salubrious town of Richmond; thence, when the difficult matter of admission is overcome, to the celebrated Brompton Hospital for chest diseases; and in the Spring to Italy. Of course, all this presupposes the conjectural problem that I will slowly recover. ‘Consummation devoutly to be wished!’ Now, 105 you think, or say, what prevents you from taking advantage of all these plans? At once, and without any squeamishness, money for an outfit, I did not like to ask Dobell, nor do I ask you; but hearing a ‘subscription’ had been spoken of, I urge it with all my weak force. I am not in want of an immense sum, but say £12 or £15. This would conduce to my safety as far as human means could do so. If you can aid me in getting this sum, the obligation to a sinking fellow-creature will be as indelible in his heart as the moral law.
     “I hope you will not misunderstand me. My barefaced request may be summed thus: If your influence set the affair a-going, quietly and quickly, the thing is done, and I am off. Surely I am worth £15; and for God’s sake overlook the strangeness and the freedom and the utter impertinence of this communication. I would be off for Richmond in two days, had I the money, and sitting here thinking of the fearful probabilities makes me half-mad.”
     It was soon found necessary, however, to act with decision. A residence in Kirkintolloch 106 throughout the winter was, on all accounts, to be avoided. A lady, therefore, subscribed to the Brompton Hospital for chest complaints for the express purpose of procuring David admission.
     One bleak wintry day, not long after the receipt of the above letter, I was gazing out of my lofty lodging-window when a startling vision presented itself, in the shape of David himself, seated with quite a gay look in an open Hansom cab. In a minute we were side by side, and one of my first impulses was to rebuke David for the folly of exposing himself during such weather, in such a vehicle. This folly, however, was on a parallel with David’s general habits of thought. Sometimes, indeed, the poor boy became unusually thoughtful, as when, during his illness, he wrote thus to me: “Are you remembering that you will need clothes? These are things you take no concern about, and so you may be seedy without knowing it. By all means hoard a few pounds if you can (I require none) for any emergency like this. Brush your excellent top-coat; it is the best and warmest I ever had on my back. Mind, 107 you have to pay ready money for a new coat. A seedy man will not get on if he requires, like you, to call personally on his employers.”
     David had come to London in order to go either to Brompton or to Torquay,—the hospital at which last-named place was thrown open to him by Mr. Milnes. Perceiving his dislike for the Temperance Hotel, to which he had been conducted, I consented that he should stay in the “ghastly bankrupt garret,” until he should depart to one or other of the hospitals. It was finally arranged that he should accept a temporary invitation to a hydropathic establishment at Sudbrook Park, Richmond. Thither I at once conveyed him. Meanwhile, his prospects were diligently canvassed by his numerous friends. His own feelings at this time were well expressed in a letter home: “I am dreadfully afraid of Brompton; living among sallow, dolorous, dying consumptives is enough to kill me. Here I am as comfortable as can be: a fire in my room all day, plenty of meat, and good society,—nobody so ill as myself; but there, perhaps, hundreds far worse (the hospital holds 218 in all stages of the 108 disease; ninety of them died last report) dying beside me, perhaps,—it frightens me.”
     About the same time he sent me the following, containing more particulars:—

“Sudbrook Park, Richmond,

     “MY DEAR BOB,
“Your anxiety will be allayed by learning that I am little worse. The severe hours of this establishment have not killed me. At 8 o’clock in the morning a man comes into my bedroom with a pail of cold water, and I must rise and get myself soused. This sousing takes place three times a day, and I’m not dead yet. To-day I told the bathman that I was utterly unable to bear it, and refused to undress. The doctor will hear of it; that’s the very thing I want. The society here is most pleasant. No patient so bad as myself. No wonder your father wished to go to the water cure for a month or two; it is the most pleasant, refreshing thing in the world. But I am really too weak to bear it. Robert Chambers is here; Mrs. Crowe, the authoress; Lord Brougham’s 109 son-in-law; and at dinner and tea the literary tittle-tattle is the most wonderful you ever heard. They seem to know everything about everybody but Tennyson. Major —— (who has a beautiful daughter here) was crowned with a laurel-wreath for some burlesque verses he had made and read, last night. Of course you know what I am among them—a pale cadaverous young person, who sits in dark comers, and is for the most part silent; with a horrible fear of being pounced upon by a cultivated unmarried lady, and talked to.
     “Seriously, I am not better. When the novelty of my situation is gone, won’t the old days at Oakfield Terrace seem pleasant? Why didn’t they last for ever?
                                                               “Yours ever,
                                                                           “DAVID GRAY.”

     All at once David began, with a delicacy peculiar to him, to consider himself an unwarrantable intruder at Sudbrook Park. In the face of all persuasion, therefore, he joined me in London, whence he shortly afterwards departed for Torquay.
     He left me in good spirits, full of pleasant 110 anticipations of Devonshire scenery. But the second day after his departure he addressed to me a wild epistle, dated from one of the Torquay hotels. He had arrived safe and sound, he said, and had been kindly received by a friend of Mr. Milnes. He had at first been delighted with the town, and everything in it. He had gone to the hospital, had been received by “a nurse of death” (as he phrased it) , and had been inducted into the privileges of the place; but on seeing his fellow-patients, some in the last stages of disease, he had fainted away. On coming to himself he obtained an interview with the matron. To his request for a private apartment, she had answered that to favour him in that way would be to break written rules, and that he must content himself with the common privileges of the establishment. On leaving the matron, he had furtively stolen from the place, and made his way through the night to the hotel. From the hotel he addressed the following terrible letter to his parents:—

“Torquay, January 6, 1861.

“I am coming home—home-sick. I cannot 111 stay from home any longer. What’s the good of me being so far from home, and sick and ill? I don’t know whether I’ll be able to come back—sleeping none at night—crying out for my mother, and her so far away. Oh God, I wish I were home never to leave it more! Tell everybody that I’m coming back—no better—worse, worse. What’s about climate—about frost or snow or cold weather when one is at home? I wish I had never left it.
     “But how am I to get back without money, and my expenses for the journey newly paid yesterday? I came here yesterday scarcely able to walk. O how I wish I saw my father’s face—shall I ever see it? I have no money, and I want to get home, home, home! What shall I do, O God? Father, I shall steal to see you again, because I did not use you rightly—my conduct to you all the time I was at home makes me miserable, miserable, miserable! Will you forgive me?—do I ask that? forgiven, forgiven, forgiven! If I can’t get money to pay for my box, I shall leave box and everything behind. I shall try and be at home by Saturday, January 12th. 112 Mind the day—if I am not home—God knows where I shall be. I have come through things that would make your hearts ache for me—things which I shall never tell to anybody but you, and you shall keep them secret as the grave. Get my own little room ready, quick, quick; have it all tidy and clean and cosy against my homecoming. I wish to die there, and nobody shall nurse me, except my own dear mother, ever, ever again. O home, home, home!
     “I will try and write again, but mind the day. Perhaps my father will come into Glasgow, if I can tell him beforehand how, when, and where I shall be. I shall try all I can to let him know.
     “Mind and tell everybody that I am coming back, because I wish to be back, and cannot stay away. Tell everybody; but I shall come back in the dark, because I am so utterly unhappy. No more, no more. Mind the day.
                                                                                                                 “D. G.
     “Don’t answer—not even think of answering.” *

     — * While lingering at Torquay, however, his mood became calmer, and he was able to relieve his overladen mind in the composition of these lines—deeply interesting, apart from their poetic merit.

Lines written at Torquay, January, 1861.

Come to me, O my Mother! come to me,
Thine own son slowly dying far away!
Thro’ the moist ways of the wide ocean, blown
By great invisible winds, come stately ships
To this calm bay for quiet anchorage;
They come, they rest awhile, they go away,
But, O my Mother, never comest thou!
The snow is round thy dwelling, the white snow,
That cold soft revelation pure as light,
And the pine-spire is mystically fringed,
Laced with encrusted silver. Here—ah me!—
The winter is decrepit, underborn,
A leper with no power but his disease.
Why am I from thee, Mother, far from thee?
Far from the frost enchantment, and the woods
Jewelled from bough to bough? Oh home, my home!
O river in the valley of my home.
With mazy-winding motion intricate,
Twisting thy deathless music underneath
The polished ice-work—must I nevermore
Behold thee with familiar eyes, and watch
Thy beauty changing with the changeful day,
Thy beauty constant to the constant change?
                                                                           M.S. —

     113 Before I had time to comprehend the state of affairs, there came a second letter, stating that David was on the point of starting for London. “Every ring at the hotel bell makes me tremble, fancying they are coming to take me away by 114 force. Had you seen the nurse! Oh! that I were back again at home—mother! mother! mother!” A few hours after I had read these lines in miserable fear, arrived Gray himself, pale, anxious, and trembling. He flung himself into my arms with a smile of sad relief. “Thank God!” he cried; “that’s over, and I am here!” Then his cry was for home; he would die if he remained longer adrift; he must depart at once. I persuaded him to wait for a few days, and in the meantime saw some of his influential friends. The skill and regimen of a medical establishment being necessary to him at this stage, it was naturally concluded that he should go to Brompton; but David, in a high state of nervous excitement, scouted the idea. Disease had sapped the foundations of the once strong spirit. He was now bent on returning to the north, and 115 wrote more calmly to his parents from my lodgings:—

“London, Thursday.

“Having arrived in London last night, my friends have seized on me again, and wish me to go to Brompton. But what I saw at Torquay was enough, and I will come home, though it should freeze me to death. You must not take literally what I wrote you in my last. I had just ran away from Torquay hospital, and didn’t know what to do or where to go. But you see I have got to London, and surely by some means or other I shall get home. I am really home-sick. They all tell me my life is not worth a farthing candle if I go to Scotland in this weather, but what about that. I wish I could tell my father when to come to Glasgow, but I can’t. If I start to-morrow I shall be in Glasgow very late, and what am I to do if I have no cash. If he comes into Glasgow by the twelve train on Saturday, I may, if possible, see him at the train, but I would not like to say positively. Surely I’ll get home 116 somehow. I don’t sleep any at night now for coughing and sweating—I am afraid to go to bed. Strongly hoping to be with you soon.
                                                                                 “Yours ever,
                                                                                         “DAVID GRAY.”

     “Home—home—home!” was his hourly cry. To resist these frantic appeals would have been to hasten the end of all. In the midst of winter, I saw him into the train at Euston Square. A day afterwards, David was in the bosom of his father’s household, never more to pass thence alive. Not long after his arrival at home, he repented his rash flight. “I am not at all contented with my position. I acted like a fool; but if the hospital were the sine qua non again, my conduct would be the same.” Further, “I lament my own foolish conduct, but what was that quotation about impellunt in Acheron? It was all nervous impulsion. However, I despair not, and, least of all, my dear fellow, to those whom I have deserted wrongfully.”
     Ere long, poor David made up his mind that he must die; and this feeling urged him to write 117 something which would keep his memory green for ever. “I am working away at my old poem, Bob; leavening it throughout with the pure beautiful theology of Kingsley.” A little later: “By-the-bye, I have about 600 lines of my poem written, but the manual labour is so weakening that I do not go on.” Nor was this all. In the very shadow of the grave, he began and finished a series of sonnets on the subject of his own disease and impending death. This increased literary energy was not, as many people imagined, a sign of increased physical strength; it was merely the last flash upon the blackening brand. Gradually, but surely, life was ebbing away from the young poet.
     In March, 1861, 1 formed the plan of visiting Scotland in the spring, and wrote to David accordingly. His delight at the prospect of a fresh meeting—perhaps a farewell one—was as great as mine. He wrote me the following, and burst out into song:*—

     —* I subjoin the poem, not only as lovely in itself, but as the last sad poetic memorial of our love and union. I find it in his printed volume, among the sonnets entitled, “In the Shadows:”—

Now, while the long-delaying ash assumes
Its delicate April green, and loud and clear
Thro’ the cool, yellow, mellow twilight glooms,
The thrush’s song enchants the captive ear;
Now, while a shower is pleasant in the falling,
Stirring the still perfume that shakes around;
Now that doves mourn, and, from the distance calling,
The cuckoo answers, with a sovereign sound—
Come, with thy native heart, O true and tried!
But leave all books; for what with converse high,
Flavoured with Attic wit, the time shall glide
On smoothly, as a river floweth by,
Or as on stately pinion, through the gray
Evening, the culver cuts his liquid way! —

     118 “Merkland, March 12, 1861.

     “MY DEAR BOB,
“I am very glad to be able to write you to- day. Rest assured to find a change in your old friend when you come down in April. And do, old fellow, let it be the end of April, when the evenings are cool and fresh, and these east-winds have howled themselves to rest. When I think of what a fair worshipful season is before you, I advise you to remove to a little room at Hampstead, where I only wish too, too much to be 119 with you. Don’t forget to come north since you have spoken about it; it has made me very happy. My health is no better,—not having been out of my room since I wrote, and for some time before. The weather here is so bitterly cold and unfavourable, that I have not walked 100 yards for three weeks. I trust your revivifying presence will electrify my weary relaxed limbs and enervated system. The mind, you know, has a great effect on the body. Accept the wholesome common place. . . . By-the-way, how about Dobell? Did your mind of itself, or even against itself, recognize through the clothes a mana poet? Young speaks well:—

I never bowed but to superior worth,
Nor ever failed in my allegiance there

Has he the modesty and make-himself-at-home manner of Milnes?” The remainder of this letter is unfortunately lost.
     In April, I saw him for the last time, and heard him speak words which showed the abandonment of hope. “I am dying,” said David, leaning back in his arm-chair in the little carpeted 120 bedroom; “I am dying, and I’ve only two things to regret: that my poem is not published, and that I have not seen Italy.” In the endeavour to inspire hope I spoke of the happy past, and of the happy days yet to be. David only shook his head with a sad smile. “It is the old dream— only a dream, Bob—but I am content.” He spoke of all his friends with tenderness, and of his parents with intense and touching love. Then it was “farewell!” “After all our dreams of the future,” he said, “I must leave you to fight alone; but shall there be no more ‘cakes and ale’ because I die?” I returned to London; and ere long heard that David was eagerly attempting to get “The Luggie” published. Delay after delay occurred. “If my book be not immediately gone on with, I fear I may never see it. Disease presses closely on me. . . . The merit of my MSS. is very little—mere hints of better things—crude notions harshly languaged; but that must be overlooked. They are left not to the world (wild thought!), but as the simple, possible, sad, only legacy I can leave to those who have loved and love me.” To a dear friend and 121 fellow poet, William Freeland, then sub-editor of the Glasgow Citizen he wrote at this time: “I feel more acutely the approach of that mystic dissolution of existence. The body is unable to perform its functions, and like rusty machinery creaks painfully to the final crash. . . . About my poem,—it troubles me like an ever present demon. Some day I’ll burn all that I have ever written,—yet no! They are all that remain of me as a living soul. Milnes offers £5 towards its publication. I shall have it ready by Saturday first.” And to Freeland, who visited him every week, and cheered his latter moments with a true poet’s converse, he wrote out a wild dedication, ending in these words: “Before I enter that nebulous uncertain land of shadowy notions and tremulous wonderings—standing on the threshold of the sun and looking back, I cry thee, O beloved! a last farewell, lingeringly, passionately, without tears.” At this period I received the following:—

“Merkland, N. S., Sunday Evening.

“By all means and instantly, ‘move in this 122 matter’ of my book. Do you really and without any dream-work, think it could be gone about immediately? If not soon I fear I shall never behold it. The doctors give me no hope, and with the yellowing of the leaf ‘changes’ likewise ‘the countenance’ of your friend. Freeland is in possession of the MSS., but before I send them (I love them in so great temerity) I would like to see, and, if at all possible, revise them. Meanwhile, act and write. Above all, Bob, give me (and my father) no hope unless on sound foundation. Better that the rekindled desire should die than languish, bringing misery. I cannot sufficiently impress on you how important this ‘book,’ is to me: with what ignoble trembling I anticipate its appearance: how I shall bless you should you succeed.
     “Do not tempt me with your kindness. The family have almost got over the strait, only my father being out of work. It is, indeed, a ‘golden treasury’ you have sent me. Many thanks. My only want is new interesting books. I shall return it soon when I get Smith. Do not, like a good fellow, disappoint an old friend by 123 forgetting to send that work. With what interest (thinking on my own probable volume) shall I examine the print, &c. I am sure, sure to return it.
     “When you complain of physical discomfort I believe. What is the matter? Your letters now are a mere provoking adumbration of your condition. I know positively nothing of you, but that you are mentally and bodily depressed, and that you will never forget Gray. In God’s name let us keep together the short time remaining.
     “You tell me nothing; write sooner too. Recollect I have no other pleasure. How is your mother? and all? Are your editorial duties oppressive? Is life full of hope and bright faith, yet, yet? Tell me. Bob, and tell me quickly.
     “What a fair, sad, beautiful dream is Italy! Do you still entertain its delusive motions? Pour your soul before me; I am as a child.
                                           “Yours for ever,
                                                           “DAVID GRAY.”

     Still later, in an even sweeter spirit, he wrote to an old schoolmate, Arthur Sutherland, with whom he had dreamed many a boyish dream, 124 when they were pupil teachers together at the Normal school:—
     “As my time narrows to a completion, you grow dearer. I think of you daily with quiet tears. I think of the happy, happy days we might have spent together at Maryburgh; but the vision darkens. My crown is laid in the dust for ever. Nameless too! God, how that troubles me! Had I but written one immortal poem, what a glorious consolation! But this shall be my epitaph if I have a gravestone at all,—

                               ’Twas not a life,
’Twas but a piece of childhood thrown away.

O dear, dear Sutherland! I wish I could spend two healthy months with you; we would make an effort, and do something great. But slowly, insidiously, and I fear fatally, consumption is doing its work, until I shall be only a fair odorous memory (for I have great faith in your affection for me) to you—a sad tale for your old age.

Whom the gods love, die young.

Bless the ancient Greeks for that comfort. If I was not ripe, do you think I would be gathered?
     125 “Work for fame for my sake, dear Sutherland. Who knows but in spiritual being I may send sweet dreams to you—to advise, comfort, and command! who knows? At all events, when I am mooly, may you be fresh as the dawn.
     “Yours till death, and I trust hereafter too,
                                     “DAVID GRAY.”

     At last, chiefly through the agency of the unwearying Dobell, the poem was placed in the hands of the printer. On the 2nd of December, 1861, a specimen-page was sent to the author. David, with the shadow of death even then dark upon him, gazed long and lingeringly at the printed page. All the mysterious past—the boyish yearnings, the flash of anticipated fame, the black surroundings of the great city—flitted across his vision like a dream. It was “good news,” he said. The next day the complete silence passed over the weaver’s household, for David Gray was no more. Thus, on the 3rd of December, 1861, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, he passed tranquilly away, almost his last words being, “God has love, and I have faith.” The following 126 epitaph, written out carefully, a few months before his decease, was found among his papers:—


Below lies one whose name was traced in sand—
He died, not knowing what it was to live:
Died while the first sweet consciousness of manhood
And maiden thought electrified his soul:
Faint beatings in the calyx of the rose.
Bewildered reader, pass without a sigh
In a proud sorrow! There is life with God,
In other kingdom of a sweeter air;
In Eden every flower is blown. Amen.
                                                   DAVID GRAY.
Sept. 27, 1861.

     Draw a veil over the woe that day in the weaver’s cottage, the wild broodings over the beloved face, white in the sweetness of rest after pain. A few days later, the beloved dust was shut for ever from the light, and carried a short journey, in ancient Scottish fashion, on handspokes, to the Auld Aisle Burial-Ground, a dull and lonely square upon an eminence, bounden by a stone wall, and deep with “the uncut hair of graves.” Here, in happier seasons, had David often mused; for here slept dust of kindred, and hither in his sight the thin black line of rude 127 mourners often wended with new burdens. Very early, too, he blended the place with his poetic dreams, and spoke of it in a sonnet not to be found in his little printed volume:—


Aisle of the dead! your lonely bell-less tower
     Seems like a soul-less body, whence rebounds
No tones ear-sweetening, as if ’twere to embower
     The Sabbath tresses with its soothing sounds.
In pity, crumbling aisle, thou lookest o’er
     Your former sainted worshippers, whose bones
     Lie mouldering ’neath these nettle-girded stones,
Or ’neath yon rank grave weeds! Now from afar
Is seen the sacred heavenward spire, which seems
     An intercessor for the mounds below:
And doth it not speak eloquent in dreams?
     In dreams of aged pastors who did go
Up to the hallowed mount with homely tread:
     While there, old men and simple maids and youths
     Throng lovingly to hear the sacred truths
In gentle stream poured forth. But, he is dead;
     And in this hill of sighs he rests unknown,
     As that wild flower that by his grave hath blown.

     Standing on this eminence, one can gaze round upon the scenes which it is no exaggeration to say David has immortalized in song,—the Luggie flowing, the green woods of Gartshore, the smoke 128 curling from the little hamlet of Merkland, and the faint blue misty distance of the Campsie Fells. The place though a lonely is a gentle and happy one, fit for a poet’s rest; and there, while he was sleeping sound, a quiet company gathered ere long to uncover a monument inscribed with his name. The dying voice had been heard. Over the grave now stands a plain obelisk, publicly subscribed for, and inscribed with this epitaph, written by Lord Houghton:—


     Here all is said that should be said; yet perhaps the poet’s own sweet epitaph, evidently prepared with a view to such a use, would have been more graceful and appropriate.
     129 “Whom the gods love die young,” is no mere pagan consolation; it has a tenderness for all forms of faith, and even when philosophically translated, as by Wordsworth, who said sweetly that “the good die first,” it still possesses balm for hearts that ache over the departed. That the young soul passes away in its strength, in its prismatic dawn, with many powers undeveloped, yet no power wasted, is the beauty and the pity of the thought, the inference of the apotheosis. The impulse has been upward, and the gods have consecrated the endeavour. The thought hovers over the death-beds of Keats and Robert Nicoll; it is repeated even by weary old men over those poets’ graves. No hope has been disappointed, no eye has seen the strong wing grow feeble and falter earthward, and the possibility of a future beyond our seeing is boundless as the aspiration of the spirit which escaped us. “Whom the gods love die young,” said the Athenians; and “bless the ancient Greeks for that comfort,” wrote David, with the thin, tremulous, consumption-wasted hand. Beautiful, pathetically beautiful, is the halo surrounding the head of a young 130 poet as he dies. We scarcely mourn him,—our souls are so stirred towards the eternal. But what comfort may abide when, from the frame that still breathes, poesy arises like an exhalation, and the man lives on. In life as well as in death there is a Plutonian house of exiles, and they abandon all hope who enter therein; and that man inhabits the same. How often does this horror encounter us in our daily paths? The change is rapid and imperceptible. Without hope, without peace, without one glimpse of the glory the young find in their own aspirations, the doomed one buffets and groans in the dark. Which of the gods may he call to his aid? None; for he believes in none. Better for him, a thousand times better, that he slept unknown in the shadow of the village where he was born. The strong hard scholar, the energetic literary man of business has a shield against the demons of disappointment, but men like David have no such shield. Picture the dark weary struggle for bread which must have been his lot had he lived. He had not the power to write to order, to sell his wits for money. He sleeps in peace. 131 He has taken his unchanged belief in things beautiful to the very fountain-head of all beauty, and will never know the weary strife, the poignant heartache of the unsuccessful endeavourers.
     The book of poems written, and the writer laid quietly down in the auld aisle burying ground, had David Gray wholly done with earth? No; for he worked from the grave on one who loved him with a love transcending that of woman. In the weaver’s cottage at Merkland subsisted tender sorrow and affectionate remembrance; but something more. The shadow lay in the cottage; a light had departed which would never again be seen on sea or land; and David Gray, the handloom-weaver, the father of the poet, felt that the meaning had departed out of his simple life. There was a great mystery. The world called his darling son a poet,—and he hardly knew what a poet was; all he did know was that the coming of this prodigy had given a new complexion to all the facts of existence. There was a dream-life, it appeared, beyond the work in the fields and the loom. His son, whom he had thought mad at first, was crowned and honoured 132 for the very things which his parents had thought useless. Around him, vague, incomprehensible, floated a new atmosphere, which clever people called poetry; and he began to feel that it was beautiful—the more so, that it was so new and wondrous. The fountains of his nature were stirred. He sat and smoked before the fire o’ nights, and found himself dreaming too! He was conscious, now, that the glory of his days was beyond that grave in the kirkyard. He was like one that walks in a mist, his eyes full of tears. But he said little of his griefs,—little, that is to say, in the way of direct complaint. “We feel very weary now David has gone!” was all the plaint I knew him to utter; he grieved so silently, wondered so speechlessly. The new life, brief and fatal, made him wise. With the eager sensitiveness of the poet himself he read the various criticisms on David’s book; and so subtle was the change in him, that, though he was utterly unlearned and had hitherto had no insight whatever into the nature of poetry, he knew by instinct whether the critics were right or wrong, and felt their suggestions to the very roots of his being.
     133 With this old man, in whom I recognized a greatness and sweetness of soul that has broadened my view of God’s humblest creatures ever since, I kept up a correspondence—at first for David’s sake, but latterly for my correspondent’s own sake. His letters, brief and simple as they were, grew fraught with delicate and delicious meaning; I could see how he marvelled at the mysterious light he understood not, yet how fearlessly he kept his soul stirred towards the eternal silence where his son was lying. “We feel very weary now David has gone!” Ah, how weary! The long years of toil told their tale now; the thread was snapt, and labour was no longer a perfect end to the soul and satisfaction to the body. The little carpeted bedroom was a prayer-place now. The Luggie flowing, the green woods, the thymy hills, had become haunted; a voice unheard by other dwellers in the valley was calling, calling, and a hand was beckoning; and tired, more tired, dazzled, more dazzled, grew the old weaver. The very names of familiar scenes were now a strange trouble; for were not these names echoing in David’s songs? Merkland, “the 134 summer woods of dear Gartshire,” the “fairy glen of Wooilee,” Criftin, “with his host of gloomy pine-trees,” all had their ghostly voices. Strange rhymes mingled with the humming of the loom. Mysterious “poetry,” which he had once scorned as an idle thing, deepened and deepened in its fascination for him. All he saw and heard meant something strange in rhyme. He was drawn along by music, and he could not rest.
     Beside him dwelt the mother. Her face was quite calm. She had wept bitterly, but her heart now was with other sons and daughters. David was with God, and the minister said that God was good—that was quite enough. None of the new light had troubled her eyes. She knew that her beloved had made a “heap o’ rhyme,”—that was all. A good loving lad had gone to rest, but there were still bairns left, bless God!
     But the old man lingered on, with hunger in his heart, wonder in his soul. This could not last for ever. In the winter of 1864, he warned me that he was growing ill; and although he 135 attributed his illness to cold, his letters showed me the truth. There was some physical malady, but the aggravating cause was mental. It was my duty, however, to do all that could be done humanly to save him; and the first thing to do was to see that he had those comforts which sick men need. I placed his case before Lord Houghton; but generous as that man is, all men are not so generous. “It is exceedingly difficult to get people to assist a man of genius himself,” wrote Lord Houghton, gloomily; “they won’t assist his relations.” Lord Houghton, however, personally assisted him, and was joined by a kind colleague, Mr. Baillie Cochrane.
     I felt then, and I feel now, that the condition of the old man was even more deeply affecting than the condition of David in his last moments, as deserving of sympathy, as universal in its appeal to human generosity; and I felt a yearning, moreover, to provide for the comfort of David’s mother, and for the education of David’s brothers. Who knew but that, among the latter, might be another bright intellect, which a little schooling might save for the world? After puzzling myself 136 for a plan, I at last thought that I could attain all my wishes by publishing a book to be entitled “Memorials of David Gray,” and to contain contributions from all the writers of eminence whom I could enlist in the good cause. Such a thing would sell, and might, moreover, be worth buying. The fine natures were not slow in responding to the appeal, and I mention some names, that they may gain honour. Tennyson promised a poem; Browning another; George Eliot agreed to contribute; Dickens, because he was too busy to write anything more, offered me an equivalent in money. All seemed well, when one or two objections were raised on the score of propriety; and it was even suggested, that “it looked like begging for the father on the strength of Gray’s reputation.” Confused and perplexed, I determined to refer the matter to one whose good sense is as great as his heart, but (luckily for his friends) a great deal harder. “Should I or should I not, under the circumstances, go on with my scheme?” His answer being in the negative, the book was not gone on with, and the matter dropped.
     Meantime, the old man was getting worse. On the 27th April I received this letter:—

137 “Merkland.

“We hope this will find you and Mrs. Buchanan in good health. I am not getting any better. The cough still continues. However, I rise every day a while, but it is only to sit by the fire. Weather is so cold I cannot go out, except sometimes I get out and walks round yard. I am not looking for betterness. I have nothing particular to say, only we thought you would be thinking us ungrateful in not writing soon.
                                     “I remain, yours ever,
                                                           “DAVID GRAY.
     “I understand there is some movement with David’s stone * again.”

     On the 9th May, he wrote, “I have Dr. Stewart to attend me. He called on Sunday and sounded me;—he says I am a dying man, and dying fast. You cannot imagine what a weak person I am; I am nearly bedfast.” On the 16th May came the last lines I ever received from him. They are almost illegible, and their purport prevents

—    * The monument, not then erected. —

138 me from printing them here. A few days more, and the old man was dead. His green grave lies in the shadow of the obelisk which stands over his beloved son. Father and child are side by side. A little cloud, a pathetic mystery, came between them in life; but that is all over. The old handloom-weaver, who never wrote a verse, unconsciously reached his son’s stature some time ere he passed away. The mysterious thing called “poetry,” which operated such changes in his simple life, became all clear at last—in that final moment when the world’s meanings become transparent, and nothing is left but to swoon back with closed eyes into the darkness, confiding in God’s mercy, content either to waken at His footstool, or to rest painlessly for evermore.



David Gray, and other Essays, chiefly on Poetry - continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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