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.
Twenty years later I met with the only other person whom I have ever encountered who had even heard of 'The Cameronian's Dream'. This was Robert Louis Stevenson, who had been greatly struck by it when he was about my age. Probably the same ephemeral edition of it reached, at the same time, each of our pious households.
As my Mother's illness progressed, she could neither sleep, save by the use of opiates, nor rest, except in a sloping posture, propped up by many pillows. It was my great joy, and a pleasant diversion, to be allowed to shift, beat up, and rearrange these pillows, a task which I learned to accomplish not too awkwardly. Her sufferings, I believe, were principally caused by the violence of the medicaments to which her doctor, who was trying a new and fantastic 'cure', thought it proper to subject her. Let those who take a pessimistic view of our social progress ask themselves whether such tortures could today be inflicted on a delicate patient, or whether that patient would be allowed to exist, in the greatest misery in a lodging with no professional nurse to wait upon her, and with no companion but a little helpless boy of seven years of age. Time passes smoothly and swiftly, and we do not perceive the mitigations which he brings in his hands. Everywhere, in the whole system of human life, improvements, alleviations, ingenious appliances and humane inventions are being introduced to lessen the great burden of suffering.
If we were suddenly transplanted into the world of only fifty years ago, we should be startled and even horror-stricken by the wretchedness to which the step backwards would reintroduce us. It was in the very year of which I am speaking, a year of which my personal memories are still vivid, that Sir James Simpson received the Monthyon prize as a recognition of his discovery of the use of anaesthetics. Can our thoughts embrace the mitigation of human torment which the application of chloroform alone has caused? My early experiences, I confess, made me singularly conscious, at an age when one should know nothing about these things, of that torrent of sorrow and anguish and terror which flows under all footsteps of man. Within my childish conscience, already, some dim inquiry was awake as to the meaning of this mystery of pain--