THE YOUNGEST OF THE IMMORTALS.
0 very beautiful are little girls, And goodly to the sight. —J, G. Saxe
Many of our readers are no doubt familiar with the name of Marjory Fleming, whom literary critics have described as the youngest immortal in the world of letters. They have known her for many years, as we ourselves have known her, in the exquisite sketch from the loving pen of Dr John Brown. The very tender account of her which ho published under the title of 'Pet Marjorie’ has Avon for the little maid the devoted homage of countless readers. It even secuv.d for her a tiny niche in the pantheon of tho ‘ Dictionary of National Biography, where Sir Leslie Stephen closes the short account of her with tho Avoids: “Pet Marjorie’s life is probably the shortest to Lcrecorded in those volumes, and she is arc of the most charming characters. Tin poet Swinburne was among those who came under tho spoil of tho dear little lass. He sang of an
Elysian sen. Whore Rab still licks” the hand of Marjorie, and it is on record that Mark TAvain solaced some of the last hours of his life with Marjory’s letters and diaries, and found the child intensely human and alto aether adorable. We knoiv how Valter Scott loved her. “ She's the most extraordinary creature I over met with, and her repeating of Shakespeare _ ovei powers me as nothing else docs. Dr Brown has drawn tho picture of the friendship bctAvcon Marjorv and the wizard in imperishable lines Ho has told ns lioaa he used to make her teach him nursery rhymes, setting her down in his ample chait mid standing sheepishly before her, pretending to find great difficulty in mastering the rhvtlun of “ Wonery, tAvoery, tickory, seven," and breaking into roars of laughter over “Pin, pan, musky Dan,” till she icbukcd him Avith earnest but comical gravity. Then he would take her on his knee and read ballads to her, both of them getting wild Avith excitement over ‘Gil Morrice ’ and ‘The Baron of Smiidholm.’ And the climax came when she repeated to him the speech, so full of pathos, of Constance in ‘King John': ”1 will instruct rny ronows to be proud.” With such apparent feeling did the child say the verves that Sir Walter, gazing into her homely, winsome face, hurst inti tears and sobbed his fill. * * if * * * * But though he Avrote so sympathetically about “Pet Marjorie,” Dr Brovyu did not give us a very clear account of the little lady’s life. Nor did he indicate the influences under which she developed Avhat, perhaps, was her most remarkable characteristic—her gift of self-expross.on. The journals and letters from Avhich he quoted disappeared after his death, and it seemed as if her manv almirers were to be left longing in A’ain to knoAv more of her. A short time ago, however, lho-e quaint documents Avere rsdiseoA'ced. and they are now given to us in full, along Avith a complete account of hir short histoiy, by Mr Lachlan Macbean, in a volume published by Messrs Simpkin Marshall and Co. at the modest price of half a crown. Marjory Avas tho daughter of a Kirkcaldy accountant. She Avas born in the year 1003. When she was five and a-ha.lf veais old she went to stay xvitli her aunt in Edinburgh, to Avhich circumstance sbo owes her fame. Her aunt was a Mrs William Keith, and Avas connected by marriage with Sir Walter Scott. She had five children all of Avhom were older than their little visitor, and some of whom Avero already on the threshold of manhood. Marjory became the .special charge of her cousin Isa Keith. During the three years to which her visit extended it was Isa Avho superintended her training in religion and morals, as Avell as her education in tha mysteries of reading, writing, and arithmetic, This Isa avis Aviso beyond her years. She Avas still a young lady in her teens, but she bestowed a Avealth of affection and infinite pains on Marjory. As soon as tho child could spell her way through a book she pur, into her hands the picturesque history and traditions of their native country. For reading lessons she chose the romantic story of Mary, Queen of Scots. She taught the little maid to repeat poetry—not merely nursery rhymes, but gens from the classics, Shakespeare, Gray. Thomson, and the like. What matter that the recitations Avere, hut imperfectly understood? 'they sufficed to kindle in I the young learner’s mind a feeling for Cm beauty of Avoids, and to train her ear in appreciate tho melody of true poetry, t ill she became a little poetess herself. But the most interesting and fruitful of MGs Keith's experiments consisted in her writing lesson;. She speedily threrv aside ihe dreary copy book through Avhich children, in those da\’s as still in these, were w-ont to scrawl tlieir Avay, and presented Marjory Avith it journal, in which she could practise caligraphy Avhile she Avrote whatever pleased her. That those journals of hers were really intended to he exercise bonks is evident by tho frequent comments in Isa’s handwriting which are scattered through the pages. “Marjory must write no more journal till she writes better" : so runs one of these notes of the preceptress’s inditing, and as witness that the sentence aahs carried out avg have some lines of mere practice in the making of “m’s” and “ids” and capital “ C’s.” But tho little pupil entered into tho spirit of keeping a diary Avhile she learned to write. She transferred to those precious volumes in her own ingenuous Avay records of her doings, confessions of her sins and shortcomings, descriptions of the Avorld around her, comments on the men and woman she met, notes on the book? she road, verses of her oavh composing, and curious little observations on her experiences of life. In a word, she uttered her soul ns frankly, as interestingly, as successfully as any older Avriler Avho ever kept a diary. ******* It is, indeed, a .very childlike soul that expresses itself in these pages. Marjory is no prim specimen of precoc’.osity. There is nothing beyond her years in her. Eho i:5 a. natural", impulsive, warm-hearted, lovable child, like countless others of her age. She is often foolish and wayAvard and naughty. Her association with a large household of persons considerably, older than herself, served to stimulate and draw out her powers. Avhile her cousin’s brilliant idea of substituting journals for copybooks taught her the art of expressing her passing thoughts and feelings. But she remains a child to the eud, and what endears her still to all lovers of children is just that she reminds us of so many little folks whom Ave ourselves know- and love. Poor little maid, her pilgrimage in the world which she found - so beautiful and interesting was a short one. Returning to her parents’ home Avhen her long visit to her Edinburgh aunl’e Avas over, she caught an attack of measles, and. despite her ! strong, , healthy constitution, she suej cumbed to some cerebral complication, i and died on the eve of her ninth birthj day. A little marble cross in Abbotshfd! i Churchyard marks to this day the spat | where all that was left of her lies buried. | ****** *
Let us turn for a moment to her journals and letters. Facsimiles in Mr Macbcan’s volume show her handwriting. It is still very large, of old-fashioned round style’ and often copiously blotted. Her spelling is sometimes correct, but very frequently it is original. fho bus. for the first few month;; at least, a sublime disregard for punctuation. In our quotations, however, wo shall not attempt to produce her idiosyncrasies. Let us take some of tho entries at random. Flero when she is six years old she writes : The whole house plagues mo about “ Come, haste to the Wedding,’’ for there Is no sense in it, they think, because it is an American. Eliza Purves taught me. They plague me about it exceeding much. I’m affronted to say it. it is so awkward.
Thaw you have a child’/! eensUiveueea. Quite common it is to see a little one coaxed and teased to repeat something she has learned, or to go through some performance, for the amusement of her elders. We know the reluctance that shows itself in the downcast eyes, the head hung sideways, the shrinking little figure. Marjory differs from her sisters only in that she can put it into words. There is nothing children fear like ridicule, nothing hurts them like the suspicion that they are being laughed at. The sun is seen glimmering through the trees, whoso spreading foliage allows only a slight tinge to ho seen. It is a beautiful sight. The hedges are green, the trees green, and everything hears a pleasure to the eye when we look on them. Marjory’s love of Nature is very strong. Again and again she tries to put her feelings into words. One of her greatest pleasures is to spend a holiday with some friends in the country. “ Here at Braehead,” she says, “ I "enjay rural felicity to perfection; content, retirement, rural friendship, books, all these dwell here.” The quiet, the beauty, the many interests of country life charmed her as they charm most children. How many of our own recollections of early childhood bring up before us just the same delights. The sunshine and the trees, the birds and flowers, the sights and sounds of some quiet spot in the country live in memory to this clay, showing how it touched our infant fancy, too, though we could not have expressed our pleasure as Marjory did. ******* Marjory lived in the days when theology was stern. God was thought of as King and Judge rather than as Father and Friend. There was truth in the old theology. It provided a bracing atmosphere " for the development of strong characters; but it sometimes chilled and terrified more sensitive spirits. Isa Keith taught iier young pupil as she had herself been taught, and Marjory, like every other child, reflected on what she learned. “God Almighty knows everything that we do or say, and He can kill you in a moment” —she is awed by the doctrine of omniscience and omnipotence. “ I am very sorry to say that I forgot God—that is to say, I forgot to pray today. 1 should be thankful that He did not forget me. It Ho did, 0 what would become of me? If I was in danger, and God not friends with mo, I must go to unquenchable fire.” Let us hope that our children to-day are spared the terror of thinking that God will ever be “ not friends” with them. The trouble is never that God is “not friends” with us : it is that we are so often “not friends” with Him. Very young children are capable of agonising fears when they have been unwisely instructed. But the name of God should never be associated in their minds with audit but goodness ami love. * * * * « * *
Marjory lived in tho days Avhen the penal code was cruelly severe. We see this reflected in several of her entries. *• Macary (some criminal of the day) is not yet transported ; it must bo a. dreadful "thing, transportation.” She ha.s heard her seniors discussing the poor wretch’s fate, and, dimly understanding, her heart is touched. But a more amusing sidelight on tho penal code occurs biter. She is staying at Braohcad, Avhen she remarks :
I am going to tell you of a melancholy story. A young turkey of two or three months old—would you believe it! the father broke its leg, and he killed another. 1 think ho should bo transported or hanged. The dead turkeys—there were three of them ultimately—-were duly buried, and one of the farm lads pleased Marjory by erecting a tombstone over their grave. Marjory herself wrote an elony to commemorate their fate, Avhich. though not the finest of her poems, bills fair to become the best known owing to a certain vigor of expression which perhaps was considered less unladylike in tier day than in ours. We quote but half a dozen of its 17 lines ; Three turkeys fair their last have breathed, And now this world for ever leaved. A direful death indeed they had, That would put any parent mad. But she (t-hoir mother) was more than usual calm; P!io did not give a sing!-: damn ! Marjory’s own sins and wickednesses weighed heavily on her conscience at times. The poor wee soul had a bit of a temper, and seems not infrequently to have jet it go. But she was always very penitent afterwards, and the one thing that impressed, her most of all Avne the wonderful patience and forbearance of Isa. Indeed, this Isa shines in the pages of her little cousin’s story as a A-ery aviso and very winsome young lady. She was patient and gen lie and endlessly painstaking. She completely Avon her pupil’s heart. It is quite touching io read lioav Marjory breed her: lioav she idolised her.
we should gay. Isa stands to her for ail that is good and gracious in womanhood. There is probably nowhere in literature an instance of a child’s heart given so wholly and unreservedly to her teacher. When, her long visit over, she Avent back to her home at Kirkcaldy, joy at being again Aviih her mother was tempered with grief at parting from her cousin. And, indeed, as avs draw near tho end of Mr MaeheaiSs book we begin to wonder whether we ourselves are more in love with Marjory Fleming or with Isa Keith.
Marjory lived during tho period of the Napoleonic wars. Before Ave leave her it is of special interest in these days to note her allusions to the great struggle in which Britain was then engaged. Of the magnitude and significance of the struggle as a whole she, of course, knoAVS nothing., but details Avhich she has heard talked of have sunk into her mind. Thus : The English have great power over the French. Ah, me, perauveuturo at this moment some noble colonel sinks to the ground without breath, and in convulsive pangs dies. It is a melancholy consideration.
Again ; “Mercantile affairs are in a perilous situation." “ Fighting is what ladies is not qualified for ; they" would not make a good figure in battle, nor in a duel. Alas, we ladies are of little use to our country.” We read this very day a letter which a friend, of ours received from a young lady in Scotland, in which, after describing all that the men of her acquaintance Avero saying and doing, the ■writer echoes the sentiment expressed by Marjory 100 years ago. “ For myself,” she says, “ I am busy cursing fate that I am a girl. An oddment like myself conk; have pot away so easily. The only outlet for female patriotism seems to be in the knitting of socks, and wo are given to understand that already sufficient have been provided for an army of centipedes.”
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THE YOUNGEST OF THE IMMORTALS., Evening Star, Issue 15638, 31 October 1914