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A Window in Thrums., Issue 8036, 12 October 1889, Supplement
A Window in Thrums.
To turn from that popular story 'ldeala,' in which one of the chief charms is the revelation of a truth which is more or lees fiction, and in which fact is proved to be the least important thing in the world, to the absolute truth of the Scotch village set before us by Mr Barrie, which is simple matter of fact, comprehended, perceived, and understood by genius, is the strangest step, greater perhaps than the step from one planet to another, if we had any knowledge on that point. It is not that the power of ratiocination, or the philosophy, or the human instincts of Hendry and Jess and Leeby are in any way inferior to the corresponding gifts among the fine people who surround the modern heroine. Nothing can be keener and shrewder, for instance, than the imaginative logic by which the old invalid woman at her window demonstrates, to her own satisfaction and that of her daughter, with all the pleasure to be derived from a fine legal inquiry brought to a successful conclusion, where the "lad" who is to replace the absent minister on the Sabbath is to be lodged. The manner in which Jess treats the circumstantial evidence which is to be Been from her window, strengthened by scraps of news as to purchases made and orders given, is masterly—more keenly reasoned out than any of the philosophical discussions of the more elevated work. But though at Thrums the deepest questions are touched upon in that slow and apparently irrelevant peasant talk which Mr Barrie presents with such faithfulness, it is the facts of life which are more generally under debate; and the cottage people, so far from finding fault with Providence for such small matters as extreme poverty, endless work, and painful sickness, think it almost presumption to ask God for more, considering the many blessings He has given them—altogether a different frame of mind. There can, however, be few more delightful pictures than that of the little house at the head of the brao, with the invalid mother seated in her chair at the window, over-, looking everything that comes and goes. In coarser hands Jess might very well have been made a mere gossip, harmless or otherwise—or she might have been the sentimental invalid of fiction, beneficent and sweet in universal help. What she is, is an acute and clever woman of true Scottish mould, kind indeed to everybody, but with a passionate tenderness for her own which finds little expression in words, a critic, in some matters even a sceptic born, too keen to be deceived, seeing through pretences with the eye of an eagle, yet with the warmest interest in everything that goes on around her, the drama of life which is her sole but entrancing amusement. The other personages are her good, honest husband Hendry, not nearly so clever, but honest as the soil that brings him forth—her excellent daughter Leeby, and the tender, deeply be loved Jamie, who in the end turns the homely, happy life into unspoken tragedy, yet is never condemned, neither by the mother whose arm* would always be open to him, nor by the reader who divines all, and whose heart is broken by Jamie's visit of despair after all that belonged to him has been swept from the house on the brae. There is very little to be told in this remarkable little book—no story at all; for Jamie's fault is never quite revealed, save in the reserved yet significant statement that he " never let his family hear from him." Yet we follow the homely record of their life with un interest which the most sensational drama could not surpass. The highest light in the picture is the return and fortnight's visit of the son, to which they all look forward during the course of the year, and look back upon when it is over. The last night is a perfect picture of a parting such a? has taken place in many a Scotch cottage, when little is said, but a profound feeling—we might say passion—of love and sorrow pervades all. '•Everything was ready too soon. Hendry had been to the fish cadger in the square to get a bervie for Jamie's supper, and Jamie had eaten it, trying to look as if it made him happier. His little box was packed and strapped, and stood terribly conspicuous against the dresser. Jess had packed it herself. 11 ' Ye maunna trouble yersel', mother,' . Jamie said when Bhe had the empty bos pulled towards her. v 'I Leeby was wiser. ' Let her do't,'she •' whispered; ' it'll keep her frae brooding.' " jess tied ends of yarn round the stockings to keep them in a little bundle by themselves. So she did with all the other , articles.
" *N6' 'at it's ony great aSsh;,' she said, for on the laßt night they were all thirsting to dp something for Jamie that would be a great affair to him. " ' Ah, ye would wonder, mother,' Jamie said, ' when I open my box and find a'thing tied up with strings sae careful; it a* comes back to me wi' a rush wha did it, and am as fond o' thae strings as though they wer.e a grand present.' *****
"*I think you should gang [to bed], mother,' said Jamie, ' and I'fl coriie an' sit aside ye after ye're in yer bed,' " Ay, Jamie, J'H n°' bae ye to sit aside me the morn's nioht and bap me with the olaes.'
•"But ye'll gang suner to your bed, mother.'
"• I may gang, but I, winna sleep. I'll aye be thinking ye tossing on the sea I pray for ye a lang time ilka nichij Jamie.' ' ■>•-»■■•■ r "«Ay,lken.'
" ' And I picture ye ilka hotir o' the day. Ye never gang hamo through thae terrible streets at nicht but I'm thinkin' o' ye.' " ' We'll juist look to meeting next year again, mother. To think o' this keeps me up a' the winter.' "' Ay, if it's the Lord's will, Jamie; but am gey done noo, and Hendry's fell worn too.'
" Jamie, the boy that he was, said ' Dinna speak like that, mother,' and Jess again put her hand on his head.
" ' Fine I ken, Jamie,' she said, * that all my days on this earth, be they short or long, I've you for a staff to lean on.' " Ah, many years have gone since then, but if Jamie be living now he has still these words to swallow.
*' By-and-bye Leeby wentben forthe Bible, and put it into Hendry's hands. He slowly turned over the leaves to his favorite chapter, the fourteenth of John's Gospel. Always on eventful occasions did Hendry turn to the fourteenth of John. As he raised his voice to read there was a great stillness in the kitchen. The voice may have been monotonous: I have plways thought that Hendry's reading of the Bible was the most solemn and impressive I have ever heard. We went upon our knees when Hendry prayed, all but Jess, who could not. Jamie buried his face in her lap. The words Hendiy said wore those he used every night. Some, perhaps, would have smiled at his prayer to God that we be not puffed up with riches nor with the things of this world. His head shook with emotion while he prayed, and he brought us very near to the throne of grace. *Do Thou, 0 our God,' he said, in conclusion, 'spread Thy guiding hand over him whom in Thy great mercy Thou hast brought to us again; and do Thou guard him through the perils which come unto those that go down to the sea in ships. Let not our hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid, for this is not our abiding home; and may we all meet in Thy house where there are many mansions, and where there will be no last night. Amen.' It was a silent kitchen after that, though the lamp burned long in Jess's window." No one who knows Scotland can miss the extraordinary literal truth of this little interior, so full of the highest restrained emotions, love, trust, and sublime faith. It might be a photograph, yet the truthfulness of it is of the profoundest poetry. It requires a very great gift to accomplish this. Nothing could be more pathetic and beautiful than the death of Hendry, whose prayer that Jess might be taken before him (though he thinks that " them that has sae mony blessings mair than the generality has nae shame, if they would pray aye for mair ") is not answered. Overwhelmed by this thought, he rises up in the dead of night j while in his last illness, and goes out to his loom, where he is found by the sorrowBtricken neighbors roused by the nurse to look for him. " Hendry's back was to the door, and he was leaning forward on the silent loom. He had been dead for some time, but his fellow-workers saw that he must have worked for nearly an hour." A more affecting picture of faithful old love making a last confused attempt to provide something for those it had to leave behind could not be. We feel that something like extravagance seems to steal into the words with which we describe this book, which is so quiet, so unsensitional, pretending so little. But no book could be more deeply instinct with the poetry of real feeling, in which no fiction is, though it requires something which can only be called genius to reveal it to the world.
Tho little club about the pig-sty in the evening, so strong on "the humorous side of the question," is often very amusing, but by no means of such superlative quality. And we wish we could persuade Mr 3arrie to relax the extreme severity of his Scotch. Let him as a lesson read ' The Despot of Broomsedge [Cove,' ' The Prophet of the Smoky Mountains,' or some other story where the dialect of the American backwoods is used mercilessly, and ask himself whether the fatigue of soul which ensues is counterbalanced by the advantage of preserving all these broken syllables. larbe it from us to compare the jargon of the miners and woodsmen with the idioms of our ancient language. But it is no question of idiom. That can be pieserved, and is rather more quaint and impressive when it is conveyed in ordinary English. But Forfarshire is unnecessarily hard. We should ourselves be inclined to draw the line at Fife! But in any case, Sir Walter is always a model upon whom a novelist may be content to form himself; and how true to every principle of the language, how delightful in wealth of idiom, how sparing of mere cuttings-off of letters or transposition of vowels he is!
A writer like Mr Barrie, however, has some right to please himself, and if he thinks the faithfulness of his picture requires an absolutephonetic reproduction, we can say no more. But it is difficult to view without some consternation the host of little books which are finding their way to immense popularity in Scotland with very little claim upon the attention beyond that which this dialect brings. ' The Ancient Doric,' as it is often called, would seem thus to have a peculiar claim, even when unaccompanied by any qualities of imagination, humor, or eloquence. Far be it from us to treat that language with disrespect. In this home of the muses, where the author of ' Bonnie Kilmeny' looks down upon us from the wall, and where Wilson added many a touch to the great creation of his genius, the wonderful figure of the Shepherd in the ' Noctes,' with all the poetry and fun, the delicate sentiment and the riotous mirth of that Btrange conception, half-common matter of fact, half-inspired poetry—it would ill I become us to hold lightly our delightful mother tongue, with all its expressive wealth, But it is because we have so true a reverence for the language which Sir Walter used, which was the mother tongue of Jeanie Deanß and Edie Ochiltree, handled with the finest reticence, yet spontaneity, by our great master in fiction, not because it was Sootoh, but because it was the natural medium of speech to which many of his finest creations were born—that we regard the springing up of a literature which may be justly called provincial with dismay. It has some meaner meaning which we divine but imperfectly ; something of th,e petty feeling which is not national hut local, to which Mr Gladstone has not thought it beneath him to appeal. Is it, perhaps, because the nation has suffered in its nationality—because so groat a proportion of the eduoated olasses have drifted away from their original firm standing on the soil, and fallen out of that close sympathy which once united all—that those who are lower in the scale of intelligence and knowledge have fixed more fiercely, not so much upon the dear native soil as upon the badges and symbols that distinguish a village or a district, the flags of a Sunday school merry - making, not the large and noble standard of the ancient nation ? If this is so, as we are much inclined to suspect, then it is doubtless the fault of those who ought to know better, but who have in so many ways dissociated themselves from the " masses," and broken the old unity of feeling,' Tho books called ' Carlowrie,' ' Aldersyde,' ' Blinkbonny,' 'Glenairlie.'etc,, are cheap books, and per- ! fectly well adapted, with their mild lave stories and abundant marriages, far the ■. simpler classes, especially of women, whose visions are bounded by, the. parish, who • know nothing higher in society than the i minister and his wife, and believe that all
the world lietli in wickedness except Scotland. To cultivate this spirit is, however, pernicious in the highest degree, though the little books in question are all amiable, simple, and virtuous beyond reproof—and sdly. And it is sad to be told that these productions are regarded as representatives of a national school, and attain their popularity by dint of their dialect and by the very narrowness of their aim. We who have larger boasts, who have in so many ways contributed to the greatness of the Empire, and helped authoritatively in building up its fame, we, above all, who in the person of Scott have set the example and given the laws of noble fiction to all the world, that we should fall into this poor little local separateness is Jmost painful to every loyal sentiment. Mr Barrie is a proof that a little circle of weavers, speaking the broadest Scotch—too broad for our individual taste—can be made universally interesting; and that their homely life, with all its fun and pathos and tenderness \a as well adapted for the uses of genius as any in the world. He is a disciple to whom Sir Walter would have held out his kind hand, and in whom we can take an honest pride. But we wonder whether he is as well known or as widely read in Scotland as the Sunday school prize books above mentioned, which seem to run into dmost as many editions as French novels, thereby proving themselves to have reached the elevation of books which people buy, and not merely hire from a library. The public ' taste is inscrutable in its developments. But the boundless sale of 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab,' for instance, or' Mr Barnes of New York,' does not touch our pride as does this strange national falling off in the appreciation of literary value. These belong to the exigencies of railway travelling, to the folly of idle readers, who want nothing but a little excitement, and perhaps to an over-supply, which clogs appetite, and makes vinegar and pickles welcome as a variety of sensation. There is no sensation, however, in the books to which we refer, and indeed, nothing else in particular but Scotch, unillumined by any touch of higher light, the petty nationalism which puts itself above humanity. Mr Hamerton's principle of patriotic jealousy is better exemplified here than in the examples he gives us and it is very much to be regretted that it should be so.—Home papor.
A Window in Thrums., Issue 8036, 12 October 1889, Supplement
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