To this day, I cannot repeat this hymn without a sense of poignant emotion, nor can I pretend to decide how much of this is due to its merit and how much to the peculiar nature of the memories it recalls. But it might be as rude as I genuinely think it to be skilful, and I should continue to regard it as a sacred poem. Among all my childish memories none is clearer than my looking up,--after reading, in my high treble,
Kind Author and Ground of my hope, Thee, Thee for my God I avow; My glad Ebenezer set up, And own Thou hast help'd me till now; I muse on the years that are past, Wherein my defence Thou hast prov'd, Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last A sinner so signally lov'd,--
and hearing my Mother, her eyes brimming with tears and her alabastrine fingers tightly locked together, murmur in unconscious repetition:
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last A sinner so signally lov'd.
In our lodgings at Pimlico I came across a piece of verse which exercised a lasting influence on my taste. It was called 'The Cameronian's Dream', and it had been written by a certain James Hyslop, a schoolmaster on a man-of-war. I do not know how it came into my possession, but I remember it was adorned by an extremely dim and ill-executed wood-cut of a lake surrounded by mountains, with tombstones in the foreground. This lugubrious frontispiece positively fascinated me, and lent a further gloomy charm to the ballad itself. It was in this copy of mediocre verses that the sense of romance first appealed to me, the kind of nature-romance which is connected with hills, and lakes, and the picturesque costumes of old times. The following stanza, for instance, brought a revelation to me:
'Twas a dream of those ages of darkness and blood, When the minister's home was the mountain and wood; When in Wellwood's dark valley the standard of Zion, All bloody and torn, 'mong the heather was lying.
I persuaded my Mother to explain to me what it was all about, and she told me of the affliction of the Scottish saints, their flight to the waters and the wilderness, their cruel murder while they were singing 'their last song to the God of Salvation'. I was greatly fired, and the following stanza, in particular, reached my ideal of the Sublime:
The muskets were flashing, the blue swords were gleaming, The helmets were cleft, and the red blood was streaming, The heavens grew dark, and the thunder was rolling, When in Wellwood's dark muirlands the mighty were falling.