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Once we knew the Highlands absolutely too wellnot a nook that was not as familiar to us as our brown study. We had not to complain of the lochs, glens, woods, and mountains alone, for having so fastened themselves upon us on a great scale that we found it impossible to shake them off; but the hardship in our case was, that all the subordinate parts of the scenery, many of them dull and dreary enough, and some of them intolerably tedious, had taken it upon themselv
themselves so to thrust their intimacy upon us, in all winds and weathers, that without giving them the cut direct there was no way of escaping from the burden of their friendship. To
courteous and humane Christians, such as we have always been both by name and nature as far back as we can recollect, it is painful to cut even an impudent stone, or an upsetting tree that may cross our path uncalled for, or obtrude itself on our privacy when we wish to be alone in our meditations. Yet, we confess, they used sometimes sorely to try our temper. It is all very well for
you, our good sir, to say in excuse for them that such objects are inanimate. So much the worse. Were they animate, like yourself, they might be reasoned with on the impropriety of interrupting the stream of any man's soliloquies. But being not merely inanimate but irrational, objects of that class know not to keep their own place, which indeed, it may be said in reply, is kept for them by nature. But that Mistress of the Ceremonies, though enjoying a fine
cannot be expected to be equally attentive to the proceedings of all the objects under her control. Accordingly, often when she is not looking, what more common thạn for a huge hulking fellow of a rock, with an absurd tuft of trees on his head, who has observed you lying half-asleep on the greensward, to hang eavesdropping, as it were, over your most secret thoughts, which he whispers to the winds, and they to all the clouds! Or for some grotesque and fantastic ash, with a crooked back, and arms disproportionately long, like a giant in extreme old age dwindling into a dwarf, to jut out from the hole in the wall, and should your leaden eye chance at the time to love the ground, to put his mossy fist right in your philosophical countenance ! In short, it is very possible to
know a country so thoroughly well, outside and in, from mountain to molehill, that you get mutually tired of one another's company, and are ready to vent your quarrel in reciprocal imprecations.
So was it once with us and the Highlands. That “ too much familiarity breeds contempt” we learned many a long year ago, when learning to write large text; and passages in our life have been a running commentary on the theme then set us by that incomparable caligraphist, Butterworth. All “the old familiar faces” occasionally come in for a portion of that feeling; and on that account, we are glad that we saw, but for one day and one night, Charles Lamb's. Therefore, some dozen years ago we gave up the Highlands, not wishing to quarrel with them, and confined our tender assiduities to the Lowlands, while, like two great Flats as we were, we kept staring away at each other, with our lives on the same level. All the consequences that might naturally have been expected have ensued; and we are now as heartily sick of the Lowlands, and they of us.
What can we do but return to our First Love?
Allow us to offer another view of the subject. There is not about Old Age one blessing more deserving gratitude to Heaven, than the gradual bedimming of memory brought on by years. In youth, all things, internal and external, are unforgetable, and by the perpetual presence of passion oppress the soul. The eye of a woman haunts the victim on whom it
have given a glance, till he leaps perhaps out of a four-story window. A beautiful lake, or a sublime mountain, drives a young poet as mad as a March hare. He loses himself in an interminable forest louring all round the horizon of a garret six feet square. It matters not to him whether his eyes be open or shut. He is at the mercy of all Life and all Nature, and not for one hour can he escape from their persecutions. His soul is the slave of the Seven Senses, and each is a tyrant with instruments of torture, to whom and to which Phalaris, with his brazen bull, was a pointless joke. But in old age “the heart of a man is oppressed with care” no longer; the Seven Tyrants have lost their sceptres, and are dethroned; and the greyheaded gentleman feels that his soul has “set up its rest.” His eyes are dazzled no more with insufferable light—no more his ears tingle with music too exquisite to be borne—no more his touch is transport. The scents of nature, stealing from the balmy mouths of lilies and roses, are deadened in his nostrils. He is above and beyond the reach of all the long arms of many-handed misery, as he is out of the convulsive clutch of bliss. And is not this the state of best happiness for mortal man ? Tranquillity! The peaceful air that we breathe as we are westering towards the sunset-regions of our Being, and feel that we are about to drop down for ever out of sight behind the Sacred Mountains.