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    Ch. 7 - The Manse

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    Chapter 8
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    I HAVE named, among many rivers that make music in my memory, that
    dirty Water of Leith. Often and often I desire to look upon it
    again; and the choice of a point of view is easy to me. It should
    be at a certain water-door, embowered in shrubbery. The river is
    there dammed back for the service of the flour-mill just below, so
    that it lies deep and darkling, and the sand slopes into brown
    obscurity with a glint of gold; and it has but newly been recruited
    by the borrowings of the snuff-mill just above, and these, tumbling
    merrily in, shake the pool to its black heart, fill it with drowsy
    eddies, and set the curded froth of many other mills solemnly
    steering to and fro upon the surface. Or so it was when I was
    young; for change, and the masons, and the pruning-knife, have been
    busy; and if I could hope to repeat a cherished experience, it must
    be on many and impossible conditions. I must choose, as well as
    the point of view, a certain moment in my growth, so that the scale
    may be exaggerated, and the trees on the steep opposite side may
    seem to climb to heaven, and the sand by the water-door, where I am
    standing, seem as low as Styx. And I must choose the season also,
    so that the valley may be brimmed like a cup with sunshine and the
    songs of birds; - and the year of grace, so that when I turn to
    leave the riverside I may find the old manse and its inhabitants

    It was a place in that time like no other: the garden cut into
    provinces by a great hedge of beech, and over-looked by the church
    and the terrace of the churchyard, where the tombstones were thick,
    and after nightfall "spunkies" might be seen to dance at least by
    children; flower-plots lying warm in sunshine; laurels and the
    great yew making elsewhere a pleasing horror of shade; the smell of
    water rising from all round, with an added tang of paper-mills; the
    sound of water everywhere, and the sound of mills - the wheel and
    the dam singing their alternate strain; the birds on every bush and
    from every corner of the overhanging woods pealing out their notes
    until the air throbbed with them; and in the midst of this, the
    manse. I see it, by the standard of my childish stature, as a
    great and roomy house. In truth, it was not so large as I
    supposed, nor yet so convenient, and, standing where it did, it is
    difficult to suppose that it was healthful. Yet a large family of
    stalwart sons and tall daughters were housed and reared, and came
    to man and womanhood in that nest of little chambers; so that the
    face of the earth was peppered with the children of the manse, and
    letters with outlandish stamps became familiar to the local
    postman, and the walls of the little chambers brightened with the
    wonders of the East. The dullest could see this was a house that
    had a pair of hands in divers foreign places: a well-beloved house
    - its image fondly dwelt on by many travellers.

    Here lived an ancestor of mine, who was a herd of men. I read him,
    judging with older criticism the report of childish observation, as
    a man of singular simplicity of nature; unemotional, and hating the
    display of what he felt; standing contented on the old ways; a
    lover of his life and innocent habits to the end. We children
    admired him: partly for his beautiful face and silver hair, for
    none more than children are concerned for beauty and, above all,
    for beauty in the old; partly for the solemn light in which we
    beheld him once a week, the observed of all observers, in the
    pulpit. But his strictness and distance, the effect, I now fancy,
    of old age, slow blood, and settled habit, oppressed us with a kind
    of terror. When not abroad, he sat much alone, writing sermons or
    letters to his scattered family in a dark and cold room with a
    library of bloodless books - or so they seemed in those days,
    although I have some of them now on my own shelves and like well
    enough to read them; and these lonely hours wrapped him in the
    greater gloom for our imaginations. But the study had a redeeming
    grace in many Indian pictures, gaudily coloured and dear to young
    eyes. I cannot depict (for I have no such passions now) the greed
    with which I beheld them; and when I was once sent in to say a
    psalm to my grandfather, I went, quaking indeed with fear, but at
    the same time glowing with hope that, if I said it well, he might
    reward me with an Indian picture.

    "Thy foot He'll not let slide, nor will
    He slumber that thee keeps,"

    it ran: a strange conglomerate of the unpronounceable, a sad model
    to set in childhood before one who was himself to be a versifier,
    and a task in recitation that really merited reward. And I must
    suppose the old man thought so too, and was either touched or
    amused by the performance; for he took me in his arms with most
    unwonted tenderness, and kissed me, and gave me a little kindly
    sermon for my psalm; so that, for that day, we were clerk and
    parson. I was struck by this reception into so tender a surprise
    that I forgot my disappointment. And indeed the hope was one of
    those that childhood forges for a pastime, and with no design upon
    reality. Nothing was more unlikely than that my grandfather should
    strip himself of one of those pictures, love-gifts and reminders of
    his absent sons; nothing more unlikely than that he should bestow
    it upon me. He had no idea of spoiling children, leaving all that
    to my aunt; he had fared hard himself, and blubbered under the rod
    in the last century; and his ways were still Spartan for the young.
    The last word I heard upon his lips was in this Spartan key. He
    had over-walked in the teeth of an east wind, and was now near the
    end of his many days. He sat by the dining-room fire, with his
    white hair, pale face and bloodshot eyes, a somewhat awful figure;
    and my aunt had given him a dose of our good old Scotch medicine,
    Dr. Gregory's powder. Now that remedy, as the work of a near
    kinsman of Rob Roy himself, may have a savour of romance for the
    imagination; but it comes uncouthly to the palate. The old
    gentleman had taken it with a wry face; and that being
    accomplished, sat with perfect simplicity, like a child's, munching
    a "barley-sugar kiss." But when my aunt, having the canister open
    in her hands, proposed to let me share in the sweets, he interfered
    at once. I had had no Gregory; then I should have no barley-sugar
    kiss: so he decided with a touch of irritation. And just then the
    phaeton coming opportunely to the kitchen door - for such was our
    unlordly fashion - I was taken for the last time from the presence
    of my grandfather.

    Now I often wonder what I have inherited from this old minister. I
    must suppose, indeed, that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so
    am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to
    hear them. He sought health in his youth in the Isle of Wight, and
    I have sought it in both hemispheres; but whereas he found and kept
    it, I am still on the quest. He was a great lover of Shakespeare,
    whom he read aloud, I have been told, with taste; well, I love my
    Shakespeare also, and am persuaded I can read him well, though I
    own I never have been told so. He made embroidery, designing his
    own patterns; and in that kind of work I never made anything but a
    kettle-holder in Berlin wool, and an odd garter of knitting, which
    was as black as the chimney before I had done with it. He loved
    port, and nuts, and porter; and so do I, but they agreed better
    with my grandfather, which seems to me a breach of contract. He
    had chalk-stones in his fingers; and these, in good time, I may
    possibly inherit, but I would much rather have inherited his noble
    presence. Try as I please, I cannot join myself on with the
    reverend doctor; and all the while, no doubt, and even as I write
    the phrase, he moves in my blood, and whispers words to me, and
    sits efficient in the very knot and centre of my being. In his
    garden, as I played there, I learned the love of mills - or had I
    an ancestor a miller? - and a kindness for the neighbourhood of
    graves, as homely things not without their poetry - or had I an
    ancestor a sexton? But what of the garden where he played himself?
    - for that, too, was a scene of my education. Some part of me
    played there in the eighteenth century, and ran races under the
    green avenue at Pilrig; some part of me trudged up Leith Walk,
    which was still a country place, and sat on the High School
    benches, and was thrashed, perhaps, by Dr. Adam. The house where I
    spent my youth was not yet thought upon; but we made holiday
    parties among the cornfields on its site, and ate strawberries and
    cream near by at a gardener's. All this I had forgotten; only my
    grandfather remembered and once reminded me. I have forgotten,
    too, how we grew up, and took orders, and went to our first
    Ayrshire parish, and fell in love with and married a daughter of
    Burns's Dr. Smith - "Smith opens out his cauld harangues." I have
    forgotten, but I was there all the same, and heard stories of Burns
    at first hand.

    And there is a thing stranger than all that; for this HOMUNCULUS or
    part-man of mine that walked about the eighteenth century with Dr.
    Balfour in his youth, was in the way of meeting other HOMUNCULOS or
    part-men, in the persons of my other ancestors. These were of a
    lower order, and doubtless we looked down upon them duly. But as I
    went to college with Dr. Balfour, I may have seen the lamp and oil
    man taking down the shutters from his shop beside the Tron; - we
    may have had a rabbit-hutch or a bookshelf made for us by a certain
    carpenter in I know not what wynd of the old, smoky city; or, upon
    some holiday excursion, we may have looked into the windows of a
    cottage in a flower-garden and seen a certain weaver plying his
    shuttle. And these were all kinsmen of mine upon the other side;
    and from the eyes of the lamp and oil man one-half of my unborn
    father, and one-quarter of myself, looked out upon us as we went by
    to college. Nothing of all this would cross the mind of the young
    student, as he posted up the Bridges with trim, stockinged legs, in
    that city of cocked hats and good Scotch still unadulterated. It
    would not cross his mind that he should have a daughter; and the
    lamp and oil man, just then beginning, by a not unnatural
    metastasis, to bloom into a lighthouse-engineer, should have a
    grandson; and that these two, in the fulness of time, should wed;
    and some portion of that student himself should survive yet a year
    or two longer in the person of their child.

    But our ancestral adventures are beyond even the arithmetic of
    fancy; and it is the chief recommendation of long pedigrees, that
    we can follow backward the careers of our HOMUNCULOS and be
    reminded of our antenatal lives. Our conscious years are but a
    moment in the history of the elements that build us. Are you a
    bank-clerk, and do you live at Peckham? It was not always so. And
    though to-day I am only a man of letters, either tradition errs or
    I was present when there landed at St. Andrews a French barber-
    surgeon, to tend the health and the beard of the great Cardinal
    Beaton; I have shaken a spear in the Debateable Land and shouted
    the slogan of the Elliots; I was present when a skipper, plying
    from Dundee, smuggled Jacobites to France after the '15; I was in a
    West India merchant's office, perhaps next door to Bailie Nicol
    Jarvie's, and managed the business of a plantation in St. Kitt's; I
    was with my engineer-grandfather (the son-in-law of the lamp and
    oil man) when he sailed north about Scotland on the famous cruise
    that gave us the PIRATE and the LORD OF THE ISLES; I was with him,
    too, on the Bell Rock, in the fog, when the SMEATON had drifted
    from her moorings, and the Aberdeen men, pick in hand, had seized
    upon the only boats, and he must stoop and lap sea-water before his
    tongue could utter audible words; and once more with him when the
    Bell Rock beacon took a "thrawe," and his workmen fled into the
    tower, then nearly finished, and he sat unmoved reading in his
    Bible - or affecting to read - till one after another slunk back
    with confusion of countenance to their engineer. Yes, parts of me
    have seen life, and met adventures, and sometimes met them well.
    And away in the still cloudier past, the threads that make me up
    can be traced by fancy into the bosoms of thousands and millions of
    ascendants: Picts who rallied round Macbeth and the old (and highly
    preferable) system of descent by females, fleers from before the
    legions of Agricola, marchers in Pannonian morasses, star-gazers on
    Chaldaean plateaus; and, furthest of all, what face is this that
    fancy can see peering through the disparted branches? What sleeper
    in green tree-tops, what muncher of nuts, concludes my pedigree?
    Probably arboreal in his habits. . . .

    And I know not which is the more strange, that I should carry about
    with me some fibres of my minister-grandfather; or that in him, as
    he sat in his cool study, grave, reverend, contented gentleman,
    there was an aboriginal frisking of the blood that was not his;
    tree-top memories, like undeveloped negatives, lay dormant in his
    mind; tree-top instincts awoke and were trod down; and Probably
    Arboreal (scarce to be distinguished from a monkey) gambolled and
    chattered in the brain of the old divine.
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