7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 17

JANET HAMILTON.* Or the many evidences of the absolute faith

of the British public in Mr. Bright's sincerity, none is more decided or more curious than the esteem in which his literary judgments are held. A word of favourable or even of kindly criticism from him is the best " advertisement " a book or an author can have, and yet nothing could be farther from Mr. Bright's intention than the giving of such an " advertisement." The public are certain that his words actually express his beliefs, w hich they are under the impression is not the case with all, or perhaps even with most, ordinary critics. Besides, Mr. Bright, who differs in so many respects from Mr. Arnold, agrees with him in considering that those works, and especially those works of the imagination, are the best which " apply ideas to life." Such books as he eulogises are sure to belong to the Carlylian category of " real books." It is not wonderful, therefore, that Mr. Bright having a few months ago spoken of Janet Hamilton with all the kindly enthusiasm of one who had " discovered " the authoress for himself, there should have been something like a demand for her works. It is 'easy to understand, further, how Mr. Bright found her story an attractive one. She was the daughter of a Lanarkshire village shoemaker, of the name of Thompson, and born in Carlyle's year, 1795. At the age of thirteen she married her father's " journeyman," bore him ten children, lived in humble, though happy, wedlock for sixty-three years, and died in 1863. It is difficult to conceive of greater difficulties in the way of self-culture more resolutely overcome than those of which Janet HamiltOn made " stepping-stones to living things." She had not even the advantage of a good Scotch village education. Her mother taught her to read, but she was fifty years of age before she taught herself a peculiar,but distinct, caligraphy ; and by sixty she had read herself blind. Copies of Milton and Ramsay, which she found on a weaver's loom, and which she had to read after her domestic work was over, and the other members of her household were ia bed, proved to her the portals at once to self-culture and to Paradise. She ransacked all the libraries within her reach, read by stealth Shakespeare, at that time on the Index of a religiously narrow village opinion. Then, as the spirit moved her, she

wrote, and gradually acquired a considerable reputation as a poetess. There is genuine moral nobility—trace-

able, perhaps, to her fifth ancestor on the mother's side, John Whitelaw, a stern Covenanter, who fought at Bothwell Bridge, and was executed in consequence—in the spectacle of this blind old woman, struggling with the anxieties of a large

family and the ree angusta dom., yet lifting up her voice with- out ceasing against the national and local vice of intemperance, and pouring out her praises of Garibaldi and Burns and piety and virtue, " in the centre of a grimy, squalid, and drunken

population," which she has depicted in a realistic piece styled "Oar Location " :—

" A Inniner funnels bleezin', reekin', Coal en' ironstano, charrilf, smeekin ;' Navvies, miners, keepers, fillers, Peddlers, rollers, iron millers;

Reestit, reekit, raggit !addles, Firemen, enginemen, an' Paddies; Boatmen, bankamen, rough an' rsttlia', 'Bout the wecht, wi' colliers battlin', Swentiie, swearin', fechtin', drinkin', Change-house bells an' gill-stoups olinkin'."

In this " Memorial Volume " we are presented with the best of Janet Hamilton, both in prose and verse. It will be im- possible to claim for her a high place among Scotch poets. Leaving Burns and Ramsay and Dunbar out of consideration, she cannot be placed on the same platform with Hogg, or Cunningham, or Motherwell. She has not the " lilt " of Ta,nna- hill. She cannot make us realise the sodden miseries of a hopelessly tragic existence, like that unfortunate waif, the Aberdeenshire poet, William Thom. Even the genius of Burns moved uneasily in the fetters of English verse, and Mrs. Hamil- ton fares worse under the same self-imposed conditions. Her enthusiasm for such subjects as liberty or Garibaldi enables her to say something on them even when she writes in English, but, as a rule, gives us nothing better than,-

" In warbling eestacy of song,

A thousand feathered throats Pour out, in full, melodious flow, Their gushing, joyous notes ;"

* poems, Essays, and Slt( taller, comprising the Principal Pieces from her Complete Works. ()Samoria1 Volume.; By Janet Hamilton. Glasgow : James Maelehose.


"Red robin trills his winter-warning ditty,

His big, bright eye invoking crumbs and pity."

But, for directness, sincerity, command of dialect, and capacity for photography in verse, Mrs. Hamilton maybe bracketed with Alex- ander Wilson, the poetical ornithologist, although she has none of his almost Burnsian humour. She is at her best when she is describing the scenes and " character " that came within the range of her knowledge, dilating on simple village virtues and domestic simplicities, and illustrating the havoc effected by her bate noir, alcohol. But for the difficulties of the dialect, we should quote the whole of "Grannie Visited at Blackhill." This. extract, however, which illustrates at once the style and the character of the authoress, may be understood, with but slight aid from glossary or Scotch dictionary :—

" There sat my granny spinuin' thrang, Aye croonin' o'er some godly saum,

Tho wrankl't Flair her face wi eld, It briehen't wi' a holy calm.

An' gutcher wi' a neebor sat Thrang crakin' eboot sheep an' icyc ; An' gutcher said he had a boast That thretty panda Scots' wadna buy.

But siccan cracks war nocht to me, I baud to hear tho martyr's story Frae granny's lips ; her ain forbear Had doe't for Christ, his croon an' glory.

An' when the gloamin' saftly fell, My granny sat ootside the door, An' drew me kin'ly to her side, As aften she had dune before.

The kye oam' routin' frae the fiel'; The e'enin' air was rich wi balm ; Stown frae the bean au' clover blooms, The dews were fit'in' salt an' calm.

The corneraik chirm't amang the corn, The mavis on the bourtree bush Maist darklin's sang ; an' up the brae Cam' trottin' burnie's Biller gush.

God bless thee, bairn—my Jamie's bairn,' She said, an' straikit dean my hair ; ' 0 may the martyrs' God be thine, And mak' thee His peculiar care !' "

Mrs. Hamilton's prose, as given in this volume, consisting chiefly of essays on such social subjects as intemperance, self-culture, and the duties of working-men and working-women, and of sketches of Scotch peasant life and character, is in some respects more remarkable than her verse. It certainly shows more clearly how hard she must have laboured at her task of self-education. There is nothing profound in her judgments of men and things. Her views on some questions. are narrow, and her style has an eighteenth-century look. But as respects both thought and diction, Mrs. Hamilton's essays are above the average of country sermons or of lectures delivered to mechanics' institutes. The best of her prose writings, how- ever—at once the truest and the most picturesque—are her Scotch stories and reminiscences. In an introductory essay prefixed to this volume, the late Mr. George Gilfillan—the ever generous and ever gorgeous—compares them with John Wilson's Lights and Shadows of Scottish Lifo. The comparison is a. perfectly fair one. Janet Hamilton is not so artistic as Wilson,. but she does not write so much with a view to moral effect. We cannot give a better specimen of her prose than this, from a graphic and even humorous account of the effect of the Radical rising of 1819 on a Scotch village :—

" There was one exception to the general defalcation of the rebels on that memorable night—it was Will Marshall, a weaver in the village, who, true to the test ho had taken, got a neighbour's. wife to darn the heels of his solitary pair of stockings, put some bread and cheese in his pocket., and took up his arms, of what de- scription deponent saith not, and went to the house of the Radical leader in the district. He would hardly answer to Will's earnest, inquiry of why he had not done his duty in calling out and leading them in person to the rendezvous, and asked him what was to be done. Done,' said he, holding the door in his hand, with Will out- side; `gang hame wi' ye; war baith the cause au' the kintra to be lost, I canna cum oot the night, I Im'e•sio a sair grip in my side.' He then slammed the door in his face, and Will went his way, Arriving at the ravine, he found no one there ; and after standing in the rain for some hours, returned home drenched aud disgusted, ` a sadder and a wiser man,' for he laid clown the Radical and took up the shuttle; and many a smart box on the ear was administered by him to the village imps, who would run and shout after him, as 1.® passed along the street, 'There's Radical Will I' But Will outlived all this, attained to a good old age, and died a respected member of our little community. The second night after the intended rising, Will Lightbody came again, but secretly, into my father's workshop ; but all! how chop-fallen he looked—how unlike the insolent demagogue of the Monday before! Almost in a whisper ho said, ' Jamie, welt ye trust me wi' a pair o' sheen for a mouth or twa, till this blast blow

by ? I'm gaun oot o' the gate for a weeock, thee bauchles wull

no carry me far.' My father looked on the poor man with a pitying eye, then rose, looked over his store, and fitted him with the needful article. He went away, saying as he went out= Gado e'en to ye, Jamie ; I'll min' the shoon when I win on the loom again.' Will's wife was a woman of high religious pretension, and had boon heard praying in the loom-shop before the proclamation, that 'God would cover her Willie's head in the day of battle.' She was now heard by the listeners to pray that he ' would protect hint from his enemies, as he did holy David when fleeing from the face of King Saul.' Many of the aspirations and sayings felt and uttered by the avowed Radicals while yet hope told a flattering tale,' were to me astound- ing, surprising, and sometimes amusing. Taxes wore to be abolished ; property of every kind no longer to be monopolised by the few, but divided amongst the many ; in a word, Radical reformation (malfor- mation) in every department of the national government, priestcraft not excepted ; all this would be accomplished by force of arms when the general rising took place, when, after supplying themselves at free cost with the needful, they would march to London in snow-ball fashion gathering as they went along. Arrived there, they would, to use a favourite phrase, skale the bike ;' and so assured were they of their ability to do so, that I remember my father saying that a friendly shoemaker from Airdrie had warned him against taking banknotes for payment in business. This man had boon a delegate, an orator, and leader in the rebel ranks in Airdrie, and had on the Saturday before the proclamation set his work-stool aside, and covered it with his apron, saying he would not lift it again till there was a change in the government of the land. A troop of the East Lothian .Yeomanry Cavalry wore stationed in Airdrie, as part of the military occupying the town, for several days, at the time of the intended rising. This troop was very obnoxious to the town Radicals, and on that eventful night were seen prancing on the street, armed with sword and carabine. But poor Crispin,' in- stead of showing front to the enemy, shut and barred his street-door, and commenced family worship, singing a part of the 78th psalm, terse 30

"The spearmum's host, the multitude Of bulls which fiercely Molt, These cakes which people have forth sent, ' 0 Lord, our God, rebuke !"

to the great amusement of the listeners on the street, Two hours afterwards he was sought for, but not found—' puir Tammy' had taken flight ; and when he next lifted his apron from the stool, and took the lapstone on his knee, ' a change had come o'er the spirit of his dream;' he was changed, but the Government and their mea- sures (not very wise and good, at that:period) were still unchanged."