Friday, May 18, 2012

John Wilson

John Wilson, a close friend of Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart, was born on May 18, 1785.  Wilson was nearly halfway between Scott and Lockhart in age, Scott being fourteen years senior, and Lockhart nine junior.  Wilson, under the pseudonym Christopher North, and  Lockhart both wrote for Blackwood's Magazine.

Wilson knew Scott well, and once wrote a poem "The Magic Mirror, addressed to Sir Walter Scott Esq." for the Edinburgh Annual Register":

Methought beneath a Castle huge I stood,
That seem'd to grow out of a rock sublime,
Through the dominion of its solitude
Augustly frowning at the rage of Time.
Its lofty minarets, indistinct and dim,
Look'd through the brooding clouds; and, as a smile
Of passing sunlight showed these structures grim
Burning like fire, I could have thought the while
That they were warriors keeping watch on high,
All motionless, and sheath'd in radiant panoply.

What mortal feet these rampart heights might scale!
Lo! like black atoms mingling in the sky,
The far-off rooks and their fleet shadows sail;
Scarce hears the soul their melancholy cry.
What lovely colours bathed the frowning brow
Of that imperial mansion! Radiant green,
And purple fading in a yellow glow!
Oh! lovelier ne'er on mossy bank was seen
In vernal joy; while bands of charter'd flowers
Revell'd like fairy sprites along their palace towers.

Down sank the draw-bridge with a thund'ring shock;
And in an instant, ere the eye could know,
Bound the stern castle to th' opposing rock,
And hung in calmness o'er the flood below;—
A roaring flood, that, born amid the hills,
Forced his lone path through many a darksome glen,
Till join'd by all his tributary rills,
From lake and tarn, from marish and from fen,
He left his empire with a kingly glee,
And fiercely bade recoil the billows of the sea.

I felt it was a dream; nor wish'd to wake:
Though dim and pale by fits the vision grew;
And oft that ocean dwindled to a lake,
And cliff and castle from the clouds withdrew.
Oft, all I heard was but a gentle swell,
Like the wild music of the summer leaves;
Till, like an army mustering in the dell,
The blasts came rushing from their pine-clad caves,
And swept the silence of the scene away,
Even like a city storm'd upon the Sabbath day.

Though strange my dream, I knew the Scottish strand,
And the bold frith that, rolling fiercely bright,
Far-distant faded mid that mountain land,
As mid dark clouds a sudden shower of light.
Long have my lips been mute in Scotland's praise!
Now is the hour for inspiration's song!
The shadowy glories of departed days
Before my tranced soul in tumult throng,
And I with fearless voice on them will call,
From camp and battle-field, from princely bower and hall.

With only my still shadow by my side,
And Nature's lifeless things that slept around,
I seem'd to be; when, from the portal wide,
Startling as sudden light, or wandering sound,
Onwards a Figure came, with stately brow,
And, as he glanced upon the ruin'd pile
A look of regal pride, "Say, who art thou,
(His countenance brightening with a scornful smile,
He sternly cried,) whose footsteps rash profane
The wild romantic realm where I have willed to reign?"

But ere to these proud words I could reply,
How changed that scornful face to soft and mild!
A witching frenzy glitter'd in his eye,
Harmless, withal, as that of playful child.
And when once more the gracious vision spoke,
I felt the voice familiar to mine ear;
While many a faded dream of earth awoke
Connected strangely with that unknown seer,
Who now stretch'd forth his arm, and on the sand
A circle round me traced, as with magician's wand.

Desire or power then had I none to move,
In that sweet prison a delighted thrall;
Died all remembrances of daily love,
Or, if they glimmer'd, vain I held them all.
Alone on that magician could I gaze;
His voice alone compell'd was I to hear,
Wild as the autumnal wind that fitful plays
A wailing dirge unto the dying year,
Amid the silence of the midnight hour,
Out through the ivied window of a mouldering tower.

He felt his might, and sported with my soul,
Even as the sea-wind dallies with a boat,
That now doth fleeter than the billows roll,
Now, as at anchor, on the calm doth float.
Nor heeded he to see my senses lock'd
In the dim maze of wildering phantasy;
But ever and anon my wonder mock'd
With careless looks of gentle tyranny.
Well-used was that magician to the sight
Of souls by him subdued to terror and delight.

How bold the fearful oft in dreams become!
Familiar in the midst of all things strange!
Unshuddering then, with spirits will we roam,
Calm and unconscious of th' unearthly change!
Even so it fared with me; ere long I grew
Familiar with the wizard of my dream,
When from his lofty breast he slowly drew
What seem'd a Mirror by its glancing gleam,
And bade me therein look, where I might see
Wild sights come floating by in clouds of glamoury.

Then burn'd that glass insufferably bright,
Till closed my eyelids with the sudden pain;
As, when the downward rays of mid-day light
Kindle to fire upon the verdant main.
Ne'er diamond spark outshone the common air
With purer radiance, nor the setting sun
Stream'd on the window of cathedral fair
A deeper blaze, to tell his course was run:
I gazed again; and lo! that Mirror soon
With tenderest lustre smiled, like a September moon.

Unto another world it opening gave.
There, castles stood majestic in their prime,
And mailed chieftains, rising from the grave,
Their banners hung o'er battlements sublime.
Oft changed the magic scene; here Lady bright,
In hazel grove, beneath the western star,
Listened the love-tale of her faithful Knight;
Here the red beacon blazed, and to the war
Fierce clans come rushing, while the blaze illumes
Targe, spear, and battle-axe, and widely-tossing plumes.

How sweet the moon on yon fair abbey shone!
Bathing in liquid light, so sadly faint,
The flowerets drooping pale in sculptured stone,
And the still image of each mouldering saint.
And what may bring a Warrior's crested head
Unto these holy courts and cloisters dim?
Thou daring spirit, why disturb the dead?
Yawns the damp tomb, and lo! a spectre grim,
Yet with his dead face beautiful withal,
Lies mid immortal light that fills the vaulted hall.

The abbey melted like a cloud away,
And many a gorgeous pageant charm'd my heart:
But how may I recount in feeble lay
The beauteous marvels of that wizard's art?
No! not unto myself dare I to tell
What various visions o'er that Mirror roll'd,
Till view'd my soften'd soul a lovely dell,
Where upon Yarrow's banks a Minstrel old
Did sit, and wake to lords and ladies high
The last-expiring strains of Border Minstrelsy.

Gone was the magic glass! I look'd around;
There hung the castle, like a thunder-cloud
Above the darken'd sea, whose hollow sound
Subdued my spirit more than tempest loud.
And by my side, upon that solemn shore,
That wizard strange did like an image stand,
Watching the working of the ancient lore
That o'er the glass had pass'd at his command;
And when he saw me lost in wild surprise,
Once more he flash'd its light upon my startled eyes.

Ye lesser glories, in my spirit sleep!
But proudly fling thy white arms to the sea,
Queen of the unconquer'd North! lo! yonder deep,
With all his subject waves, doth worship thee!
Stately thou sittest on thy mountain throne,
Thy towers and temples like a cloudy sky;
And scarce canst tell what fabrics are thine own,
Hung mid the air-built phantoms floating by.
Oh! ne'er may that bright diadem be shorn,
By thee, for many an age, majestically worn!

Nor dim and silent were thy regal halls
(The mansion, now, of grief and solitude!)
But mirth and music shook thy pictured walls,
And Scotland's monarch reign'd in Holy-Rood.
Well did I know, 'mid banneret and peer,
Star of the Stuart-line, accomplish'd James!
His graceful words I almost seem'd to hear,
As, lightly ranging mid those high-born dames,
To each, in turn, some gallant wish he sigh'd,
But lingered still near one, his ruin and his pride!

Thou field of carnage! silent be thy name!
Where Scotland's royal standard sank in blood;
While round their monarch, like a guardian flame
Wasted in vain, his dying nobles stood.
Gladly I saw dark clouds in tumult pass
O'er that red sea of horror and despair;
And the last image in the magic glass,
Even like the seraph Mercy, saintly fair,
Over her wounded foe hung sorrowing,
And slaked his burning thirst with water from the spring.

"Dry up those tears," the gentle wizard cried,
"Nor weep while nature in her glory smiles!"—
And lo! with sylvan mountains beautified,
Incumbent cliffs, lone bays, and fairy isles,
Floated a lake that I could scarce behold,
So bright it gleam'd with its enchanted waves!
While ever and anon wild music roll'd
From fractur'd rocks, and undiscover'd caves,
As if some spirit warbled from the steep
A low unearthly song, to charm the lake to sleep.

A spirit! — lo! her fairy vessel glides
Round the green edge of yonder oaken brake!
Before its prow the sparkling wave divides
In homage to the Lady of the Lake.
While, gazing from the shore, an armed Knight
Holds distant parley with that unknown Queen,
Whose eyes, with fear and wonder glistening bright,
Lend a new wildness to the mountain scene!
O lovelier far, in that bewilder'd trance,
Than Lady of the Mere, by shores of old romance!

Wild rose her palace, 'mid the unbroken calm,
Burning with flowers, that like a wreath of light
Girdled the living dome, and breathing balm
Sweet to the soul, as all those hues so bright!
The work of human hands it may not be,
And unto dreams of fairy power gave birth;
Yet, mid such dreams, the spirit paused to see
Some dim-discover'd traces of this earth,
While on that lady's countenance divine
A pensive shadow lay, that told her mortal line.

Yea! worldly cares to that enchanted dome,
Despite of Nature's guardian power, intrude;
Though bathed in sunshine, yet a stormy gloom
Is gathering o'er the hermit-solitude.
In evil hour yon princely stranger came!
For ambush'd foemen glare from every dell:—
Clan-Alpin hath beheld the Cross of Flame,
The sign of war her children love so well;
And all her heathery mountains teem with life,
With warriors gaunt and grim, and arm'd for mortal strife.

Lake, rock, and mountain, cataract and flood,
Mine eyes behold no more; with eager breath,
I gaze on clashing falchions dim'd with blood,
And plumed helms that seem to frown with death.
One of those shapes so beautiful and brave,
Like oak-tree sternly bending to the blast,
Must fall this day — but proud shall be his grave!
In wrath life's bootless energy hath past!—
Fallen is the eagle that so strongly flew—
Long Celtic bards shall wail the dirge of Roderick Dhu.

Oh! not by vulgar arm was Roderick slain!
Less than a king the victor may not be:
See! how his war-steed bears him o'er the plain,
How nods his crest with regal majesty!
Strevlina's gate may bow her lofty head
To kiss the plume that mock'd each hostile sword,
Nor by such homage be dishonoured:
Methinks, in his disguise, she knows her lord,
As if beneath her arch King James did ride,
With all his unhelm'd peerage by his gracious side.

By kingly acts a king should aye be known!
Then look through yonder lustre-beaming hall:
Stately the figures there, — yea! every one!
But Scotland's monarch far outshines them all.
And is she here, the Lady of the Lake?
Hush thy quick-beating heart, thou trembling thing!
And let him smile who suffers for thy sake.
On your betrothed arms the golden ring
The Knight of Snowden's kingly hands impose,
A talisman that breaks the spell of all your woes.

The wizard's voice here touched upon my heart,
And quick I waked, like one who, scarce asleep,
Springs from his slumber with a sudden start
To shun some yawning gulph, or headlong steep.
"Thou lov'st," said he, "on warlike pomp to gaze;
'Tis a true Scottish pride — look here again,
And dream no more of deeds of other days."—
Glad I obey'd, — and lo! the shores of Spain
Rose beautifully terrible like heaven,
When all it's lowering clouds in wrathful hosts are driven.

Woe to yon tyrant! to his legions woe!
Joy to the vulture on his herbless rock!
Glad would ye be to hear the Ebro flow
Once more, and leave the shepherd with his flock,
Ye savage slaves, that shame the name of France!—
But ne'er that sound of safety must ye hear.
List ye that tread? — the red-cross ranks advance!
Vain valour's stand, and vain the flight of fear;
For who shall live, when, shouting in their joy,
The British brother-bands move onwards to destroy!

Wasted on air were these warm words of mine—
The wizard and his magic glass were fled;
The solemn hush, that speaks the day's decline,
Across the sea without a wave was shed.
The rooks had ceased their cawing in the sky,
Nor humm'd the wild-bee on the wall-flower bright,
That on the old tower bloom'd luxuriantly;
Then rose the lovely star that brings the night,
Till Luna enter'd on her placid reign,
And a sweet crescent smiled, reflected from the main.

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