The Fleshly School Controversy
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Harriett Jay

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{North Coast and other Poems 1867}









SO still he sat upon the mountain-side,
The white cloud rested on him there, and mingled
Its dew-breath with the moisture on his eyelids;

So still and gray, the rainy light played on him,
As on an antique statue hewn in stone—
A worn old boulder, not an old man breathing;

So still, the ancient sheep-dog at his feet
Rose up, and placed its cold nose in his palm,
And gazed upon him, wondering he stirred not;


So still, he noted not the dreamy stranger,
Who, breathing hard after the steep ascent,
Stood close at hand, and musing looked upon him.

This old man’s heart was not on the hill-side,                                     180
Nor with the flying cloud, nor on the heather,
That stained the dark hill-side like bloody footprints;

He could not see the flowing of the shadows,
The palpitating light; he could not hear
The brook sing, nor the wind blow, nor the shepherd

Shouting afar off to the mountain echoes;
He could not feel the touch of wind and cloud;
Yet all these things had portion with his sorrow.

His eyes were fixed upon the still vale lying
Beneath him, on the space beside the pine-wood,
And on the gray deer twinkling in its shadow.

And yet these things he saw not, but saw visions:
The blue peat-smoke curling from human dwellings,
The matron spinning on the clean red threshold,

And down the dale the kilted huntsman, standing
With chin thrust forward, watching, while the hills
Echoed the sharp peal of his smoking gun.

Yea, all the things he heard were visions also,—                               181
The humming of the wheel, the low of kine,
The sheep-dog barking, and the sheep-bell tinkling.

So still, so still, he sat in meditation,
The sheep-dog watched with dumb and piteous eyes,
And the dark stranger looked, and came no nearer;

And neither knew his eyes were moist and dim,
Because he heard the cry of little children
Filling the dale where little children were not.

Till, setting hand upon the old man’s shoulder,
The stranger murmured, in the Gaelic speech,
‘Can this be Adam Hart that I behold?’

When, looking up under his twitching eyelids,
The old man saw a bearded, bronzéd face,
Wherein much thought had hardened into wrinkles;

A face familiar with the wind and water,
A worn companion of the ocean tempest,
And yet the face of one in life’s mid-season

And long and wearily, with querulous wonder                                    182
The old man gazed; then said in a low voice,
‘Your face is strange, and yet you seem to know me.’

‘Know you!’ the stranger echoed, laughing sadly;
‘Not Oona yonder, with his cloud-cap on,
Not the salt sea beyond, is more familiar.

‘Am I so changed with piping tunes to Fortune,
So twisted to the likeness of the world,
That even my old master hath forgot me?

‘Does the first face I meet, returning homeward,
Look thus upon me, with no smile of greeting?
Has Adam Hart forgotten Hector Stuart?’

Then as one smitten sudden by a sunbeam,
Dazzled and blinded, Adam cried aloud,
‘Hector!’ and trembled like a breaking wave;

And gripped the strong hand with his feeble fingers,
And rubbed his eyes, and looked again, still doubting,
And moved his lips, but spoke not, breathing deep.

‘Why, see!’ cried Hector, while the hound smelt round him,               183
And looked into his face as if in greeting,
‘Why, see, old Fingal’s memory is better!

‘He knows his ancient playmate on these hills;
Though ten long years have passed, he has a welcome,
A kiss too!’ for the old hound licked his fingers.

Then for a space the eyes of Adam Hart
Dimmed their weak orbs on Hector, till at last
His voice found speech in accents faint and broken.

‘Hector! alive!—a wraith among the wraiths
Of the old clachan! Now indeed I know you;
The voice grows on me, ay, and the face haunts me.

‘Welcome!—and yet how can I give you welcome?
My heart aches, Hector. I am old and broken;—
Ah, GOD! all things are changed since you departed.

‘I am the grave of him you knew. At times
It seems that I am harder than these rocks,
Surrounded but by mist and hollow voices.

‘Useless and feeble, here I linger yet,                                                184
As animals linger on, content, and never
Smiling as happy human folk can smile.

‘Yet welcome, welcome to a weary place,
And to a weary bosom. You have heard—
You know—things are not as they were of old?’

‘Ay, Adam,’ Hector answered, bitterly,
Glancing into the valley at his feet,
‘I have heard much, but there is more to hear.

‘Yet fear not; nothing now can quite appal me;
I am too used to the rough stabs of men;
The world is full of devils—men must fight them.’

Clear were his accents as the plover’s crying,
And fierce and strong he stood, but his keen eyes
Peered upon Adam with a questioning hunger.

And Adam knew the thing he dared not ask,
And murmured, looking downward, ‘Have you seen them?
The old folk?’ And the eyes of Hector kindled.

‘Nay, but they live!’ he cried, and gripped the arm                            185
Of Adam, searching in his eyes for answer.
‘They live? they live?’ And Adam answered, ‘Surely!’

Then tears came, which the strong man dashed aside,
Tears through whose mist the old man’s weary shape,
And rocks, and trees, and clouds, swam phantom-like;

And for a moment like a broken reed
He trembled there; then as a lion’s mane
Shakes off the dew, he dashed away the weakness,

Saying, ‘GOD has not lied upon the waters!
The wind, the waves, the sea-birds, cried they lived;
It is enough—I ask no more of GOD.

‘Oh, dawn by dawn rose up across the greenness
Of the blank sea, and I was looking eastward,
Hither to Scotland—hither to the home;

‘And not a star by night but said they lived;
And when the white moon walked alone above me,
I felt that it was shining on their faces.

‘And in the smooth sea, over shipboard leaning,                                186
I saw the lines of mountains and of pine-woods,
And seemed to hear the rush of mountain torrents;


‘And the sails’ creaking overhead at night
Was like the wind’s sough in the tall tree-tops;
And the wave plashing on the vessel’s side

‘Was full of Highland sounds; and when I trode
The deck, my step was proud, my head erect,
Because I seemed to walk upon the heather.

‘It is enough, I say, to know they live;                                               187
The rest is easy—they will smile upon me,
I shall be near them, I shall close their eyes.’

Stilly the old man listened; his dim eyes
Roamed heavenward with no look of vacant worship,
And, suddenly, his face went white as wool,

His dim eye flamed under his wrinkled forehead,
And fiercely with his staff he smote the ground,
And cried, ‘There are more bitter things than dying!

‘Better be foul with dust, be food for worms,
Better be food for foul crows on the hill-side,
Than see again the things that I have seen.

‘I say there is no refuge from these things,
But sleep like that! My heart cries up at GOD!
How can He sit so still and see it all?’

Then, as the black wind passes from a lake,
And leaves the quiet surface merely troubled,
His anger faded, and his voice grew weaker.

‘Heaven help us all, alas, we need some help!                                    188
Why, sometimes, when I sit and muse alone,
My hand grasps thus, like one that seeks a knife.

‘Ay, and such murder were less black, I swear,
Than is that other murder base men pardon,—
The poison dropped into the poor man’s bowl,

‘The draining of the heart’s blood drop by drop,
To feed the red deer and the flying fowl,
Making us carrion for the beasts, though living.

‘O Hector, where the little children came
To lisp the English tongue at these old knees,
The sportsman’s dogs loll out red tongues and bay;

‘And where the Highland lassie drew her water,
The moor-hen builds her clumsy nest of sedge,
And bloody hands see that she does not hunger;

‘And where the old gray men and snooded matrons
Gathered to hear the wandering preacher preach,
The horned buck leads his dun herds, silent-footed.


‘And bloody heather grows upon the threshold,
And on the hearth the bitch-stag bears her litter,
And not a human sound disturbs the stillness.

‘And yet the clouds pass, and the sun is shining,                                190
And the hills keep their seats, and GOD sees all,
Who made the bonnie world for men and women.’

And Hector answered not, but cast around him
A gaze like that cast by a shipwrecked sailor
Over a lonely waste of sky and water.

And neither spake again. The old man gripped
His staff, and led the way across the hill,
The old hound running slowly at his heels;

While Hector Stuart followed, with his eyes
Searching the landmarks of his youth, and ever
Seeing some bitter change as in a dream.

Sweet was the air, that afternoon of autumn,
For day was going gently o’er the hills,
Lifting the loose hair with a last moist breathing:

Westward, between the hills, the sinking sun
Burned like a chrysolite on one smooth sweep
Of ocean, turning it to gleams of fire;


While overhead the blue west turned to amber,
Liquid and golden, underneath the shadow
Of one long line of purple-rimméd vapour.

Nearer, on either hand, arose the hills,                                               192
Clothed with the soft and mossy tints of autumn,
Blue, gray, and purple, flecked with velvet shadows;

The boulder gray in sunset, and, still nearer,
The boulder’s shade; the golden tippéd pine-wood,
And, underneath, the shadow of the pine-wood;

And as the sunlight travelled on the hill-side,
The fallow and the brood-deer with their shadows
Followed in mottled swarms from gleam to gleam;

And from their track the clumsy partridge flew,
Whirring and screaming, and the red grouse rose
And winged its way down to the running brook.

It was a scene that seemed at peace with GOD,
Beautiful with His beauty, strange and sweet,
And not a sound broke on the hush of sunset,

Save the breeze breathing, and that half-heard murmur
The hills make to each other when they feel
The burden of GOD’s stillness heavy on them.

Not yet at peace with that sweet stillness throbbed                            193
The hearts of those over the hill-side wending,
With twisted shadows lengthening from the west.

And Adam looked not around him as he walked,
But pulled his bonnet o’er his wrinkled brow
And gazed upon the ground through the white hair

Blown in his eyes by the moist mountain breeze;
And the old hound leaped not nor made a sound,
And seemed to know the sorrow of his master.

But Hector Stuart looked toward the ocean,
And finding hope there, brightened thitherward,
And trode with lighter footstep on the heather.

From mossy ridge to ridge they passed in silence,
While dimlier, darklier, fell the dewy twilight,
And then at last descended to the valley.

Then on by rocky paths they journeyed slowly,
Winding their way ’neath dismal crags and boulders,
Until they reached the shadow of the pine-wood.

Here, pausing, Adam pointed through the twilight,                            194
And said, ‘This is my home.’ And Hector gazed,
But saw no sign of human habitation.


Only at intervals the dim black square,
The heap of stones, the moss-wrapt threshold-stone,
Showing where human dwellings late had been;

And here and there among the growing grass
The wild potato mingled up with weeds,
Yet blooming, tilled no more by human hands;

And on the sun-side of a little hillock                                                  195
The wind stirred on a little patch of greenness—
A piteous little patch of growing corn.

Then Hector stood upon the threshold-stone,
Saying, ‘Were I not hard, my heart would break;
But wind and wave have done their duty, Adam.

‘Why, on this very place my mother sat,
At sunset hour, and held me up to see
Her strong man bounding lightly from the hills.

‘Desolate, desolate, all desolate!
No touch of hands, no sound of happy voices!
Speak, Adam; lift the burden from my heart.

‘I cannot hunger on in silence longer—
I must hear all: pour out, yea, drop by drop,
As if it were my heart’s blood you were pouring.

So speaking, he distinguished in the twilight
A rude mud shieling, worn with wind and weather,
And round the walls the tall dark flagweed growing;


And on the roof grew slimy grass and weeds,
The wild leek, and the wallflower, tufts of corn;
And in the midst a thin she-goat stood browsing.

‘Enter,’ said Adam Hart, ‘and you shall hear
All that my tongue can tell you of our story,
The woe, the bitter cup that we have drunk;

‘And here this night take shelter, if you will,
And let my speech prepare your heart to suffer
The things your eyes shall look upon at dawn.’





LIKE one whose spirit evil dreams have troubled,
Haggard and weary, Hector Stuart wakened,
After a heavy sleep on sheaves of straw;

And, rolling wild eyes round the dusky chamber,
Unlit by any window-pane or loophole,
Knew by the chill o’ the air that it was dawn.

‘You have slept sound,’ said Adam, stooping o’er him.
And Hector, with a bitter laugh and hollow,
Cried, ‘Fair or stormy weather, ’t is our way!

‘But I have dreamt—GOD keep me from such dreams!
I saw it all—I heard—’t was clear as waking—
The terror and the sorrow of that story.

‘The women’s shrieks are in my ears I feel                                       198
The white woe of their faces; I behold
Fire and the fiends of hell devour the dwellings!’


Then, rising up, he drew his plaid around him,
And stepped across the threshold, where the dawn
Fell like a silver trouble on his features,

And, drinking in the air with swelling nostrils,
Doffed to the sunrise, and beheld the vapours
Clothing the hills and steaming in the valleys,

While, overhead, the lift from gray to blue                                          199
Kindled, and white light deepened from the east,
And far off faintly barked a huntsman’s hound.

‘Desolate! desolate!’ he cried aloud,
Full bitterly; ‘no cries of little bairns,
No happy voices welcoming the sunrise;

‘But, cold and gray, dawn drops into the silence,
Startling the deer and wild fowl from their lairs,
To make the lonely desolation deeper.’

Then Adam called him in, and set before him
Oat-bread and whisky; and he ate and drank,
Feeding the sheep-dog moodily from his palm;

And when the meal was over, Adam took
His staff, and whistled to the dog, and left
The shieling, followed slowly by the seaman.

Northward they turned, and ankle-deep in dew,
Walked in the dusky shadow of the mountains,
Then through the chillness of a dripping wood;

Whence issuing, they came upon the brink                                         200
Of a dark water, bottomed with black slate,
And girt around by mountains steep and sunless.

There all was silent as a dead man’s heart,
Chill, still, and sombre, and a filmy rain
Was shaken from a dim and cloudless sky;

While the dark water shimmered, and thin waves
Broke with no sound upon the lonely shore,
O’er which the wild black ouzel whirled and screamed.

Then Hector crossed himself, and shivered, saying,
‘Well might the ancient women of the clachan
Christen this loch the Water of the Dead!

‘’T is stiller than the frozen seas; ’t is drearer
Than a dead calm with rain on the mid-ocean!
Why came we hither? Whither are we bound?’

Even as he spake, dead silentness was broken
By a strange music, echoing far away,—
A murmur like a wind, yet deeper, louder.

‘Hark!’ cried the old man, and the sound grew clearer,                       201
And echoes faintly leaped from hill to hill,
Dying afar off on the thymy peaks;


And clearer grew the music, till, at last,
Distinct, though faint, an ancient Scottish air
Came floating melancholy o’er the water.

‘The pipes!’ cried Hector, holding up his hand
Against his ear, and hearkening open-mouthed,
‘The pipes! They play the Sorrow of Lochaber!’

Even like a ghostly melody by spirits                                                  202
Woven, and wafted faintly o’er the waters
That flow between us and the shores that lie

Behind the horizon of our mutual sorrows,
Over the lonely lake that music floated,
A plaintive trouble in the heart of silence,—

While the day grew, and still the rain was shaken
Out of the brightening lift, and on the hill-tops
The filmy wreaths of vapour thinned and lifted,

Showing the stony peaks and alps untrodden,
The torrents downward flashing through the spray,
The runlet glistening silver through the shadows.

Then sunrise, glistening faintly o’er the peaks,
Fell moist and slant into the lake beneath,
And where the rays fell clearest, far away

In the mid-water, moving very slowly,
With measured stroke of dripping oars, a boat
Appeared out of the fading mists of morning;

And clearer, louder, from the boat was wafted                                  203
The plaintive air, the Sorrow of Lochaber,
Aching upon the heart-strings of the hearers;


And as the boat drew nearer, and the music
Grew clearer yet and louder, they who watched
Beheld a sad and silent companie:

The boatmen hanging heads and pulling slow,                                    204
And men and women sitting sadly round them,
And all the men bareheaded to the sunrise;

And stretched along the stern a silent shape,
Covered from head to foot with sombre plaid,
And by its side a white-haired priest, who prayed;

And at its head the Piper stood erect,
Gazing across the waters, playing softly,
Lochaber, and Lochaber, and Lochaber!

Then Adam raised the bonnet from his brow,
And drooped his gray head, saying, ‘Blest be he
Whom they are bearing to his happy sleep!

‘I have no tear for him, the blesséd dead;
My tears are for the living, whose sad eyes
Must close beyond the sunset, on strange shores;

How shall they sleep in peace apart from dust
Of kindred? How shall man or woman rest
Out of the quiet shadow of these hills?


‘Better have stabbed with bloody huntsman’s knife
Man, wife, and bairn! better with gun and hounds
Have hunted them for sport across the heather!

‘Then had their end been sweeter, for their eyes                               206
Had closed among the hills where they were born,
And they had slumbered in familiar places!’

And nearer yet and nearer came the boat,
And clearer yet and clearer grew the air,—
Lochaber, and Lochaber, and Lochaber!

And those who sat within the boat were plainer,
Women and men, a ragged companie,
Each with a band of black around the arm;

But most were very old, yea, ancient men,
White-haired and wrinkled, leaning on their staves,
And toothless crones with visionary eyes;

And some were crooning in a thin low voice
A Gaelic chant, and counting over beads,
With blank eyes fixéd on the space where GOD

Dwelt as a misty trouble; and a few
Kept time with feeble lips to the sad music
Made by the gray old piper in the stern.


Then, quickening oars, the rowers ran the boat
Into a narrow cove, and touched the shore,
And one by one the pale-faced mourners landed,—

Old women leaning on their weeping daughters,                                208
And ancient shepherds on their sons; the rowers
Helping the feeblest gently up the shore.

And one there was, old, old, who could not see,
But, stooping double, leaned upon his staff,
And had an old, old sheep-dog for his guide.

‘Follow!’ said Adam, while the mourners wended
Along that silent land, and slowly entered
The still green darkness of a little wood;

And they who watched were ’ware of others coming
From east and west, by mountain-path and valley,
All making for the wood, and sadly meeting;

And, while the gray old piper led the mourners,
Tenderly playing, from the east and west
Came other players, leading other mourners;

Till hill, and vale, and water rang, and voices
Took up the gentle strain in accents broken—
Lochaber, and Lochaber, and Lochaber!

And Hector Stuart, following Adam Hart,                                          209
Came to the wood, and peering through the trees,
Beheld the kirkyard of the clan within:


A desolate place, where rough graves, rudely heapen,
Gathered like waves, with rocks and stones between,
And in the midst a Runic cross quaint-carven;

And there around an open tomb they gathered,
Ragged and homeless, while the gray-haired priest
Cried shrilly the sad service for the dead;

Till, his voice ceasing, once again the pipes                                        210
Played softly, and across that weary crew
There ran the blunted moan of hearts o’erladen.

Then Adam whispered, ‘Blest is he they bury!
For yonder in the haven waits the ship,
And ere the sun sets twice the ship will sail;

‘And all these souls will gather on her decks,
Heart-broken, bitter; gazing, young and old,
While Scotland fades into the waste of water.’

Silent they stood, each gazing on the dust
Of kindred,—on the well-belovéd ones
Whom they should never lie beside in slumber.

It was a sight that withered up the heart,
To see these old, old faces, pinched and tearless,
Those quivering heads, those hands strained tight together;

To mark the woe of women, and the heartache
Of ancient men, all human, and all wearing
The piteous justification of gray hairs!


Then one cried, ‘GOD, my GOD, I want to die!
The sweetest of my bairns are gathered here:
How should I breathe the air across the sea?’

And then another answered, ‘He knows best!                                   212
And yet I would His sleep were on my een;
He knows that I must die if ta’en from home.’

And yet another said, ‘Our bairns are young,
And care not; they are strong, and love to roam:
Let them depart in peace, if we may stay.

‘This is the glen where wife and I were born,
These are the hills we know, this is the place
Where we had hoped to slumber side by side.’

And at his words, his wife, an ancient dame,
Groaned loud, and sobbed, and lifted up her arms,
And, praying, fell upon her knees beside him.

Then once again the priest brake out in prayer,
Solemn and piteous; and the place was hushed,
And the day brightened, and the heaven grew clearer;

And on a steep crag, overhead, behold!
Huge antlers glimmered, then a mighty stag
Rose slowly, the red Monarch of those wilds,


And, while behind him followed harts and hinds,
Brood-deer and fallow, gathering swarm on swarm,
He gazed with bloodshot eye on his dominions;

Then vanished as a mist, with all his people,                                      214
In silence; while the Exiles prayed bareheaded,
And, faint and low, the pipers played Lochaber!

Lochaber! and Lochaber! and Lochaber!



North Coast and other Poems continued

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
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