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would ha' ordered a hale tablefu' wi’ little mair than a waff o' his haun, and here's a' this claver aboot a bit of mutton no bigger than a prin. Mr. De Quinshey would mak’ a gran' preacher, though I'm thinking a hantle o’the folk wouldna ken what he was driving at.'.....
“ The time when De Quincey was most brilliant was generally towards the early morning hours; and then, more than once, in order to show him off, my father arranged his supper-parties so that, sitting till three or four in the morning, he brought Mr. De Quincey to that point at which, in charm and power of conversation, he was so truly wonderful.”
Wilson appears to have been but little bound by the strict conventionalities of social life, and in Mrs. Gordon's account of what she calls his “ little ways, we have some curious illustrations of his personal character and habits. Of his manner of “ taking care” of his watch, she says :
“ In the first place, he seldom wore his own, which never by any chance was right, or treated according to the natural properties of a watch. Many wonderful escapes this ornament (if so it may be called) had from fire, water, and sudden death. All that was required of it at his hands was, that it should go, and point at some given hour. His own account of its treatment is so exactly the sort of system pursued, that this little imaginative bit of writing will describe its course correctly: “We wound up our chronometer irregularly, by fits and starts, thrice a day, perhaps, or once a week, till it fell into an intermittent fever, grew delirious, and gave up the ghost.””
“ His room was a strange mixture of what may be called order and untidiness, for there was not a scrap of paper, or a book, that his hand could not light upon in a moment, while to the casual eye, in search of discovery, it would appear chaos, without a chance of being cleared away...... The book-shelves were of unpainted wood, knocked up in the rudest fashion, and their volumes, though not wanting in number or excellence, wore but shabby habiliments, many of them being shattered and without backs. The chief pieces of furniture in this room were two cases: one containing specimens of foreign birds, a gift from an admirer of his genius across the Atlantic, which was used incongruously enough sometimes as a wardrobe; the other was a bookcase, but not entirely devoted to books; its glass doors permitted a motley assortment of articles to be seen. The spirit, the tastes and habits of the possessor were all to be found there, side by side, like a little community of domesticities.
“For example, resting upon the “Wealth of Nations' lay shining coils of gut, set off by pretty pink twinings. Peeping out from · Boxiana, in juxtaposition with the ‘Faery Queen,' were no end of delicately dressed flies; and pockets well filled with gear for the “gentle craft' found company with Shakespeare and Ben Jonson; while fishing-rods, in pieces, stretched their elegant length along the shelves, embracing a whole set of poets. Nor was the gravest philosophy without its contrast, and Jeremy Taylor, too, found innocent repose in the neighborhood of a tin box of barley-sugar, excellent as when bought
at my old man's. Here and there in the interstices between books were stuffed what appeared to be dingy, crumpled bits of paper, — these were bank-notes, his class fees, — not unfrequently, for want of a purse, thrust to the bottom of an old worsted stocking, when not honored by a place in the bookcase.”
From the glimpses of Wilson's domestic life afforded by his numerous letters to his wife, it is evident that his warm and loving nature found in the familiar and affectionate intercourse of the family its most congenial sphere. The death of his wife, in 1837, brought his first great experience of sorrow, and after this his life seems to have been clouded by a constant sense of bereavement and loss. His work upon the Magazine went on for a time, then ceased entirely, and then was again resumed. But the buoyancy and freshness were gone. The “ Dies Boreales” were only feeble imitations of the “ Noctes.” Yet his was too large and genial a nature to sadden the lives of others by desponding gloom, because the glory and gladness of the world were forever darkened to him.
We see in a larger charity, greater breadth of view, and a softened temper toward political enemies, the effect of sorrow and of added years. As he loved to say, “The animosities are mortal, but the humanities live forever.” A pleasant instance of this is found in one of the last public acts of his life. When Macaulay was one of the candidates for the representation of Edinburgh, Wilson, though at some distance and suffering from protracted illness, went into the city to give his vote for the man whose genius he heartily admired, while he still widely differed with him on political subjects. “When he entered the committee-room,” says his biographer, “supported by his servant, a long and loud cheer was given, ex
pressive both of pleasure at seeing him, and of admiration at the disinterested motives which had brought him there.”
After bis daughter's marriage with Mr. Gordon, a Whig, Wilson was frequently thrown into the society of those whose political opinions he had passed his best days in opposing, and in the warmth of good company and good cheer party animosities were forgotten.
In the account of his intercourse with his grandchildren, we have a pleasant picture of the kindly feelings and love of nature which prevailed till the close of his life.
“ He was in his latter years passionately fond of children ; his grandchildren were his playmates. A favorite pastime with them was fishing in imaginary rivers and lochs, in boats and out of them; the scenery rising around the anglers with magical rapidity, for one glorious reality was there to create the whole, — fishing-rods, reels, and basket, line and flies, the entire gear. What shouts and screams of delight as
the fun grew fast and furious, and fish were caught by dozens, Goliah getting his phantom trout unhooked by his grandfather, who would caution him not to let his line be entangled in the trees.”
And again :
“A nervous or fidgetty mother would have been somewhat startled at his mode of treating babies ; but I was so accustomed to all his doings that I never for a moment interfered with them. His granddaughter went through many perils. He had great pleasure in amusing himself with her long before she could either walk or speak. One day I met him coming down stairs with what appeared to be a bundle in his hand, but it was my baby which he clutched by the back of the clothes, her feet kicking through her long robe, and her little arms striking about evidently in enjoyment of the reckless position in which she was held. He said this way of carrying a child was a discovery he had made, that it was quite safe, and very good for it. It was all very well so long as he remembered what he was about; but more than once this large, good-natured baby was left all alone to its own devices. Sometimes he would lay her down on the rug in his room, and forget she was there ; when, coming into the drawing-room without his plaything, and being interrogated as to where she was, he would remember he had left her lying on the floor; and bringing her back with a joke, still maintaining he was the best nurse in the world, but ' I will take her up stairs to Sally, and so, according to his new discovery, she was carried back unscathed to the nursery. He did not always treat the young lady with this disrespect, for she was very often in his arms when he was preparing his thoughts for the lecture-hour. A pretty tableau it was to see them in that littered room, among books and papers, — the only bright things in it, — and the SPARROW, too, looking on while he hopped about the table, not quite certain whether he should not affect a little envy at the sight of the new inmate, whose chubby hands were clutching and tearing away at the long hair, which of right belonged to the audacious bird. So he thought, as he chirped in concert with the baby's screams of delight, and dared at last to alight upon the shoulder of the unconscious Professor, absorbed in the volume he held in his hand.”
As an old man he was genial and tender, without any taint of bitterness or misanthropy, finding comfort in little household joys, children, birds, dogs, everything that appealed to his affectionate sympathies. And so his life drew calmly to its end. His death occurred in April, 1854, suddenly and peacefully, closing a long period of decay.
His countrymen, anxious to testify their regard for the man, and their pride in his genius, are about to raise a statue to his memory, in Edinburgh.
“ As the work has not yet, however, left the artist's studio, - has not, indeed, received the final touches from his hands, — it would be presumptuous to speak of it further than to say that it promises to prove worthy alike of the sculptor, of his noble subject, and of the very suitable and conspicuous site it is destined to occupy. In a representation of a man whose notable person is so fresh in the recollections of many hundreds of his fellow-citizens, exact portraiture was indispensable ; and it was well that the sculptor, in presenting to us that memorable figure in his habit as he lived, was able also, even by faithful adherence to that habit, to attain much of the heroic element. The careless ease of Professor Wilson's ordinary dress is adopted, with scarcely a touch of artistic license in the statue, — a plaid which he was in frequent habit of wearing supplies the needed folds of drapery, and the trunk of a palm-tree gives a rest to the figure, while it indicates commemoratively his principal poetical work. The lion-like head and face, full of mental and muscular power, thrown slightly upward and backward, express fervid and impulsive genius evolving itself in free and fruitful thought, — the glow of poetical inspiration animating every feature. The figure, tall, massive, athletic; the hands, the right grasping a pen, at the same time clutching the plaid that hangs across the chest, the left resting negligently in the leaves of a half-open manuscript; the limbs, loosely planted, yet firm and vigorous ; — all correspond with the grandly elevated expression of the countenance.”
Well may his countrymen honor the memory of Wilson. A man of brilliant genius and warm heart, he was a rare and peculiar product of Scottish society. His best friends would not wish to throw any veil of concealment over his faults. They were those of an impulsive nature, and with any concealment of them his character loses much of its individuality. The man was too genuine to be misrepresented. There have been better essays than his, better poems, and surely better politics, but the young and ardent will often turn from them to read with delight the glowing and eloquent pages of John Wilson.
Art. III. — THE IMMORTALITY OF THE BRUTE WORLD.
1. Psychological Inquiries : in a Series of Essays intended to illustrate
the Mutual Relations of the Physical Organization and the Mental Faculties. By Sir BENJAMIN C. BRODIE, Bart., D. C. L., V.P.R.S., Corresponding Member of the Institute of France, etc. Third edition. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and
Longmans. 1856. 2. Psychological Inquiries. The Second Part. Being a Series of Es
says intended to illustrate some Points in the Physical and Moral
Roberts. 1862. · 3. An Essay on the Future Life of Brute Creatures. By RICHARD
DEAN, Curate of Middleton. In Two Volumes. London. 1768. 4. The Grand Question Debated ; or, An Essay to prove that the Soul
of Man is not, neither can it be, Immortal. By ONTOLOGOS. Dublin. 1751.— A Reply to the Grand Question debated ; fully proving that the Soul of Man is, and must be, Immortal. London.
1751. (Both in one volume.) 5. Meditations on Death and Eternity. Translated from the German
by FREDERICA ROWAN. Published by Her Majesty's gracious Permission. London: Trübner & Co. 1862.