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The progress of my work warns me to be brief where I would fain be most voluminous. To John Wilson, of the Isle of Palms, the City of the Plague, and of volumes of other beautiful poetry, it would be a delightful task to devote a volume. The biography of Professor Wilson, whenever given to the world, if written as it should be, would be one of the most curious and intensely interesting books in the world. The poet and the periodical writer, Christopher North at the Noctes and in his shooting-jacket, and John Wilson, the free, open-hearted, yet eccentric man, could, combined, furnish forth, with glimpses of his cotemporaries and social doings, a most fascinating work. As it is we must take but a glimpse, and a hasty glimpse, at his residences.
John Wilson was born at Paisley. His father was a wealthy manufacturer, and the house which he inhabited, and where the professor first saw the light, is perhaps the best and largest house in the town, standing in High-street. It is a large, white house, standing somewhat back, with a little shrubbery before it. Wilson was educated at Oxford, and in the London Magazine of 1820 we find an account of his indulging himself in' a pedestrian journey from the university to Edinburgh, in all manner of country life. Now joining a strolling company of players; now camping with a gang of Gipsys; then acting the beggar; and ever and anon falling in with a village wake, and entering into all the contests of flinging at will-pegs, jumping in sacks, leaping and racing. On these occasions he would astonish the natives with his wonderful talk over their beer, or equally amaze the village damsels by his grace and activity in the
dance. Any one who has seen John Wilson may imagine with what gusto and success he would go through all these parts, while hoarding up knowledge of the people's life, that would tell in future.
It is also said, that, quite as a youth, he made an excursion of this kind, nobody knowing whither he had vanished, till a Paisley man, happening to enter an inn at Conway, to his amazement saw him acting as a waiter there. Information was immediately sent to his father, it is said, who hastened into Wales, and surprised John by his presence, requesting him to return forthwith home. But here the boniface interfered, declaring that he could not part on any terms with his waiter, for such a waiter be had never had in his house in his life. So active, so expert, so full of wit and good-humor, that every one of his guests was charmed with him. In short, he was the making of the house, and go he should not. It was only when mine host was convinced who and what the youth was, and that it was only a lark, that he gave way and consented to his loss.
His life in Edinburgh, his contest for the chair of Moral Philosophy there, which he has so long and honorably occupied, his splendid writings in Blackwood, and his association with all the distinguished men of that literary corps and of the Scottish metropolis, are too familiar matters to dwell upon. The haunts of Wilson in town are the gathering places of genius and conviviality. In the country they are the mountains, the moors, and the streams. His tall and athletic form, and active and ardent character, mark him out for a deep enjoyment of all the loveliness of nature, and the sports of the wild. He has been a great wrestler, a great angler, a great shooter, and a great walker. In life, or in the pages of Blackwood, the angle and the gun have been his companions, amid the most splendid and solitary scenery of the kingdom. At one time he has been traversing the piny mountains and the lonely lochs of the Highlands, at another strolling through the defiles of Patterdale, or scaling the heights of Skiddaw. Once taking refuge in a farmhouse in the Highlands of Scotland, I was told that Professor Wilson and his wife had done the same thing just before, on their way toward the western coast, on foot, with a view to visit Staffa and Iona. With a happy family around him, John Wilson seemed for years to breathe nothing but the spirit of happiness and the full enjoyment of life. Laboring away at his lectures and his magazine articles, and partaking the society of Edinburgh during the college terms, he was ever ready to fly off, on their close, to his beloved hills and streams. In Edinburgh, his house has long been in Gloucester-place of the new town. In the country, his favorite abode at Elleray, near Windermere, in Westmoreland. . ;
Many. anecdotes of his manly humor, kindliness, and exploits of physical vigor, are related of him in this neighborhood : among others, that he was once balloted for the local militia there, and declined finding a substitute, but chose to serve. Here, then, might be seen the poet and philosopher passing his drill, and maneuvering rank and file. He would attend for his ration and his tommy, and, sticking them on the point of his bayonet, march down the town where the regiment lay, and present them to the first old woman he met. For these vagaries he was called up before the officers, to be reprimanded; but the affair was sure to change very speedily from a grave to a merry one, and to end by the officers inviting him to partake of their mess. How long he continued to indulge his whim does not appear. · Hogg gives, somewhere, a very amusing account of a week that he spent with him at Elleray, where, he says, they had curious doings among the gentlemen and the poets of the lakes. According to his account, they used to ramble far and wide among the lakes and mountains, fishing, and climbing, and talking, and would give each other a challenge to write a poem on some given subject, in the evening, after dinner. Hogg's relation of these poetical contests is most laughable. They seated themselves in separate rooms; but, according to a custom very common, and perhaps universal among poets, of chanting their verses aloud as they form them, Hogg could always hear how the matter was progressing with his antagonist. If the verse did not flow well, there was a dead silence; if it began to flow and expand, there was heard a pleasant murmur, as of a mountain stream. As the inspiration grew, and the work sped, the sound rose and swelled, like the breeze in the sonorous forest of northern pines ; and when there was a passage of supposed preëminence of beauty and strength struck out, then it rose into a grand and triumphal tide of song, like the wind pealing through the mountain passes, or the ocean pouring in riotous joy on the shore. When it reached so grand a climax, Hogg says he used to exclaim,—" There, it's all over with me; I'm done for!” and with that he gave up the contest for the day, knowing that the case was hopeless.
This humming habit of poets is a singular characteristic. A certain one of my acquaintance, riding one day on the highway, and seeing no one near, broke out into a loud and continuous chant, when a fellow put his head suddenly over the hedge, and shouted out-"What is all that about !” At which the startled bard was first struck into a sudden silence, and then into as sudden a burst of laughter at the oddity of the circumstance. Wordsworth, among the woods, and rocks, and solitary crags of Cumberland, may be heard murmuring to himself a music of his own; so that a stranger, seeing the grave and ancient man strolling along, often with a little bundle of sticks under his arm, that he has unconsciously gathered, and humming out some dimly intelligible stanzas in a breeze-like and Æolian harp-like wildness of cadence, might take him for a very innocent old man, not overburdened with business or other matters. Among the great luxuriant laurels that flourish round his house, you may trace his retired perambulations by his toplike humming, and say,
“Over its own sweet voice the stock-dove broods." Southey's garden, and that of his only neighbor, were merely divided by a hedge. In the garden of the neighbor was sitting once with the neighbor a visitor from a distance, when, a deep and mysterious booming, somewhat near, startled the stranger, and caused him to listen. Recollecting that they were near the lakes, the sound, which at first seemed most novel and unaccountable, appeared to receive a solution; and the visitor exclaimed, "What! have you bitterns here ?" “ Bitterns !" replied the host; “oh no; it is only Southey, humming his verses in the garden-walk on the other side of the hedge!"
The cottage of Wilson at Elleray is a simple, but elegant little villa, standing on high ground overlooking Windermere, but at the distance of some miles. As you approach Ambleside from Kendal, you pass, as you begin to descend the hill toward Lowood, a gate leading into a gentleman's grounds. The gateway is, on either side, hung with masses of the Ayrshire rose. There is a poetical look about the place; and that place is the country retreat of John Wilson. A carriage-road, winding almost in a perfect circle, soon introduces you to a fine lawn, surrounded by plantations, and before you, on a swelling knoll, you discern the cottage. It is hung with ivy and Ayrshire roses; and commands a splendid view over the lake, and all the mountains round. At the back a plantation of larches ascends the hill, screening it from the north. At the foot of these plantations, and sheltered in their friendly bosom, lie the gardens, with bees, and pleasant nooks for reading or talk. Walks extend all through these woodlands, and one of them conducts you through the larch copse, up the hill, and from its summit beyond the house, gives you a most magnificent panoramic view of the whole country, with its mountains,