Things and Thoughts in Europe . . . IV.

Things and Thoughts in Europe

Foreign Correspondence of The Tribune[No. IV.

Edinburgh, old and new—Scotland and Burns—Dr. Andrew Combe—American Republishers—The Bookselling Trade—The Messrs. Chambers—De Quincey the Opium-Eater—Dr. Chalmers, &c.

EDINBURGH, Sept. 22d, 1846.

  The beautiful and stately aspect of this city has been the theme of admiration so general that I can only echo it. We have seen it to the greatest advantage both from Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, and our lodging in Princes street allow us a fine view of the Castle, always impressive, but peculiarly so in the moonlight evenings of our first week ere, when a veil of mist added to its apparent size, and, at the same time, gave it the air with which Martin, in his illustrations of “Paradise Lost,” has invested the palace which “rose like an exclamation.”

  On this our second visit, after an absence of near a fortnight in the Highlands, we are at a hotel nearly facing the new monument to Scott, and the tallest buildings of the Old Town. From my windows I see the famous Kirk, the spot where the old Tolbooth was, and can almost distinguish that where Porteous was done to death, and other objects described in the most dramatic part of “The Heart of Mid Lothian.” In one of these tall houses Hume wrote part of his History of England, and on that spot still nearer was the home of Allan Ramsay. A thousand other interesting and pregnant associations present themselves every time I look out of the window.

  In the pen square between us and the Old Town is to be the terminus of the Railroad, but, as the building will be masked with trees, it is thought it will not mar the beauty of the place, yet Scott could hardly have looked without regret upon an object that marks so distinctly the conquest of the New over the Old, and, appropriately enough, his statue has its back turned that way. The effect of the monument to Scott is pleasing, though without strict unity of thought, or original beauty of design. The statue is much too hid within the monument, and wants that majesty of repose in the attitude and drapery which a sitting figure should have, and which might well accompany the massive head of Scott. Still, the monument is an ornament and an honor to the city. This is not the fourth that has been erected within two years to commemorate the triumphs of a genius. Monuments that have risen from the same ideas and in such quick succession, to Schiller, to Goethe, to Beethoven and to Scott, signalize the character of the new era still more happily than does the Railroad coming up almost to the foot of Edinburgh Castle.

  The statue of Burns has been removed from the monument erected in his honor, to one of the public libraries, as being there more accessible to the public. It is, however, entirely unworthy its subject, giving the idea of a smaller and younger person, while we think of Burns as of a man in the prime of manhood, one who not only promised but was, and with a sunny glow and breadth of character of which this stone effigy presents no sign.

A Scottish gentleman told me the following story, which would afford the finest subject for a painter capable of representing the glowing eye and natural kingliness of Burns, in contrast to the poor, mean puppets he reproved.

Burns, still only in the dawn of his celebrity, was invited to dine with one of the neighboring so-called gentry, (unhappily quite void of true gentle blood.) On arriving, he found his plate set in the servants’ room!! After dinner he was invited into a room where guests were assembled, and a chair being placed for him at the lower end of the board, a glass of wine was offered, and he was requested to sing one of his songs for the entertainment of the company. He drank off the wine and thindered forth in reply his grand song, “For a’ that and a’ that,” with which it will do no harm to refresh the memories of our readers, for we doubt there may be, even in Republican America, those who need the reproof as much, and with far less excuse, than had that Scottish company:

“Is there for honest poverty
That hangs his head, and a’ that?
The coward-slave we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that;
Our toils obscure, and a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.
What tho’ on hamely fare we dine.
Wear hoddin gray, and a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that;
For a’ that, and a’ that;
Their tinsel show, and a’ that,
The honest man, though e’er sae poor,
Is king o’men for a’ that.
Ye see you birkie, ca’d a lord.
Wha struts and stares, and a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that;
For a’ that, and a’ that,
The man of independent mind,
He looks and laughs at a’ that.
A prince can mak a belted knoght,
A marquis, duke, and a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might.
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their dignities, and a’ that,
The pith of sense, and pride o’ wroth,
Are higher ranks than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that.
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
May bear the gree, and a’ that;
For a’ that, and a’ that
It’s coming yet, for a’ that,
That man to man, the wide world o’er
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

  And, having finished this prophesy and prayer, Nature’s nobleman left his churlish entertainers to hide their diminished heads in the home they had disgraced.

  We have seen all the stock lions. The Regalia people still crowd to see, though the odd natural feelings from which they so long lay hidden seem almost extinct. Scotland grows English day by day. The libraries of the Advocate’s, Writers to the Signets, &c. are fine establishments. The University and Schools are now in vacation; we are compelled by unwise postponement of our journey to see both Edinburgh and London at the worst possible season. We should have been here in April, there in June. There is always enough to see, but now we find a majority of the most interesting persons absent, and a stagnation in the intellectual movements of the place.

  We have, however, the good fortune to find Dr. Andrew Combe, who, though a great invalid, was able and disposed for conversation at this time. I was impressed with great and affectionate respect by the benign and even temper of his mind, his extensive and accurate knowledge, accompanied, as such should naturally be, by a large and intelligent liberality. Of our country he spoke very wisely and hopefully, though among other stories with which we, as Americans, are put to the blush here, there is none worse than that of the conduct of some of our publishers toward him. One of these stories I had heard in New-York, but supposed it to be exaggerated till I had it from the best authority.—It is one of our leading houses who were publishing on their own account and had stereotyped one of his works from an early edition. When this work had passed through other editions, when he had for years been busy in reforming and amending it, he applied to this house to republish from the later and better edition. They refused. In vain he urged that it was not only for his own reputation as an author that he was anxious, but for the good of the great country through which writers on such important subjects were to be circulated, that they should have the benefit of his labors, and best knowledge.—Such arguments on the stupid and mercenary tempers of those addressed fell harmless as on a buffalo’s hide might a gold-tipped arrow. The book, they thought, answered THEIR purpose sufficiently, for IT SELLS. Other purpose for a book they knew none. And as to the natural rights of an author over the fruits of his mind, the distilled essence of a life consumed in the severities of mental labor, they had never heard of such a thing. His work was in the market, and he had no more to do with it, that they could see, than the silk-worm with the lining of one of their coats.

  Mr. Greeley, the more I look at this subject, the more I must maintain in opposition to your views, that the publisher cannot, if a mere tradesman, be a man of honor. It is impossible in the nature of things. He must have some idea of the nature and value of literary labor, or he is wholly unfit to deal with its products. He cannot get along by occasional recourse to paid critics or readers; he must have himself some idea what he is about. One partner, at least, in the firm, must be a man of culture. All must understand enough to appreciate their position, and know that he who, for his sordid aims, circulates poisonous trash amid a great and growing people, and makes it almost impossible for those whom Heaven has appointed as its instructors to do their office, are the worst of traitors, and to be condemned at the bar of nations under a sentence no less severe than false statesmen and false priests. This matter need and must be looked to more conscientiously.

  Dr. Combe, repelled with all this indifference to conscience and natural equity by the firm who had taken possession of his work, applied to others. But here he found himself at once opposed by the invisible barrier that makes this sort of tyrant so strong and so pernicious. “It was the understanding among the trade that they were not to interfere with one another; indeed, the could have no chance.” &c. &c. When at last he did get the work republished in another part of the country less favorable for his purposes, the bargain made as to the pecuniary part of the transaction was in various ways so evaded that, up to this time, he has received no compensation from a widely circulated work except a lock of Spurzheim’s hair!!

  I was pleased to hear the true view expressed by one of the Messrs. Chambers. These brothers have worked their way up to wealth and influence by daily labor and many steps. One of them is more the business man, the other the literary curator of their journal. Of this journal they issue regularly eight thousand copies, and it is doing an excellent work, by awakening among the people a desire for knowledge and, to a considerable extent, furnishing them with good materials. I went over their fine establishment, where I found more than a hundred and fifty persons, in good part women, employed, all in well aired, well lighted rooms, seemingly healthy and content. Connected with the establishment is a Savings’ Bank, and evening instruction in writing, singing and arithmetic. There was also a reading room, and the same valuable and liberal provision we had found attached to some Manchester warehouses. Such accessories dignify and gladden all kinds of labor, and show somewhat of the true spirit of human brotherhood in the employer. Mr. Chambers said he trusted they could never look on publishing chiefly as business or a lucrative and respectable employment, but as the means of mental and moral benefit to their countrymen. To one so wearied and disgusted as I have been by vulgar and base avowals on such subjects, it was very refreshing to hear this from the lips of a successful publisher.

  Dr. Combe spoke with high praise of Mr. Hurlbut’s book, “Human Rights and their Political Guaranties,” which was published at The Tribune office. He observed that it was the work of a real thinker, and extremely well written. It is to be republished here. Dr. C. observed that it must make its way slowly, as it could interest those only who were willing to read thoughtfully, but that its success was sure at last.

  He also spoke with great interest and respect of Mrs. Farnham, of whose character and the influence she has exerted on the Female Prison at Sing Sing he had heard some account.

  A person of an opposite character and celebrity indeed, is De Quincey, the English Opium-Eater, and who lately has delighted us again with the papers in Blackwood, headed SUSPIRIA DE PROFUNDIS. I had the satisfaction, not easily attainable now, of seeing him for some hours, and in the mood of conversation. As one belonging to the Wordsworth and Coleridge constellation, (he too is now 76 years of age,) the thoughts and knowledge of Mr. De Quincey lie in the past, and oftentimes he spoke of matters now become trite to one of a later culture. But to all that fell from his lips, his eloquence, subtle and forcible as the wind, full and gently falling as the evening dew, lent a peculiar charm. He is an admirable narrator, not rapid, but gliding along like a rivulet through a green meadow, giving and taking a thousand little beauties not absolutely required to give his story due relief, but each, in itself, a separate boon.

  I admired, too, his urbanity, so opposite to the rapid, slang, Vivian Greyish style current in the literary conversation of the day, “Sixty year since” men had time to do things better and more gracefully than now.

  With Dr. Chalmers we passed a couple of hours. He is old now, but still full of vigor and fire.—We had an opportunity of hearing a fine burst of indignant eloquence from him. “I shall blush to my very bones,” said he, “if the Chaarrch (sound these two rrs with as much burr as possible and you will get an idea of his mode of pronouncing that unweariable word) “if the Chaarrch yields to the storm.” He alluded to the outcry now raised by the Abolitionists against the Free Church, whose motto is, “Send back the money,” i.e. money taken from the American Slaveholders. Dr. C. felt that if they did not yield from conviction they must not to assault. His manner in speaking of this gave me an idea of the nature of his eloquence. He seldom preaches now.

  A fine picture was presented by the opposition of figure and lineaments between a young Indian, son of the celebrated Dwarkanauth Tagore, who happened to be there that morning, and Dr. Chalmers, as they were conversing together. The swarthy, half timid, yet elegant face and form of the Indian made a fine contrast with the florid, portly, yet intellectually luminous appearance of the Doctor, half shepherd, half orator, he looked a Shepherd King opposed to some Arabian story-teller.

  I saw others in Edinburgh of a later date who haply gave more valuable as well as fresher revelations of the Spirit, and whose names may be by-and-by more celebrated than I have cited, but for the present this must suffice. It would take a week, if I wrote half I saw or thought in Edinburgh, and I must close for to-day. *

“Things and Thoughts in Europe,” New-York Daily Tribune, 5 November 1846, p. 1.