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MR. CHRYSTAL CROFTANGRY'S ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF.
Sic itur ad astra.
"This is the path to heaven." Such is the ancient motto attached
to the armorial bearings of the Canongate, and which is
inscribed, with greater or less propriety, upon all the public
buildings, from the church to the pillory, in the ancient quarter
of Edinburgh which bears, or rather once bore, the same relation
to the Good Town that Westminster does to London, being still
possessed of the palace of the sovereign, as it formerly was
dignified by the residence of the principal nobility and gentry.
I may therefore, with some propriety, put the same motto at the
head of the literary undertaking by which I hope to illustrate
the hitherto undistinguished name of Chrystal Croftangry.
The public may desire to know something of an author who pitches
at such height his ambitious expectations. The gentle reader,
therefore--for I am much of Captain Bobadil's humour, and could
to no other extend myself so far--the GENTLE reader, then, will
be pleased to understand that I am a a Scottish gentleman of the
old school, with a fortune, temper, and person, rather the worse
for wear. I have known the world for these forty years, having
written myself man nearly since that period--and I do not think
it is much mended. But this is an opinion which I keep to myself
when I am among younger folk, for I recollect, in my youth,
quizzing the Sexagenarians who carried back their ideas of a
perfect state of society to the days of laced coats and triple
ruffles, and some of them to the blood and blows of the Forty-
five. Therefore I am cautious in exercising the right of
censorship, which is supposed to be acquired by men arrived at,
or approaching, the mysterious period of life, when the numbers
of seven and nine multiplied into each other, form what sages
have termed the Grand Climacteric.
Of the earlier part of my life it is only necessary to say, that
I swept the boards of the Parliament-House with the skirts of my
gown for the usual number of years during which young Lairds were
in my time expected to keep term--got no fees--laughed, and made
others laugh--drank claret at Bayle's, Fortune's, and Walker's--
and ate oysters in the Covenant Close.
Becoming my own master, I flung my gown at the bar-keeper, and
commenced gay man on my own account. In Edinburgh, I ran into
all the expensive society which the place then afforded. When I
went to my house in the shire of Lanark, I emulated to the utmost
the expenses of men of large fortune, and had my hunters, my
first-rate pointers, my game-cocks, and feeders. I can more
easily forgive myself for these follies, than for others of a
still more blamable kind, so indifferently cloaked over, that my
poor mother thought herself obliged to leave my habitation, and
betake herself to a small inconvenient jointure-house, which she
occupied till her death. I think, however, I was not exclusively
to blame in this separation, and I believe my mother afterwards
condemned herself for being too hasty. Thank God, the adversity
which destroyed the means of continuing my dissipation, restored
me to the affections of my surviving parent.
My course of life could not last. I ran too fast to run long;
and when I would have checked my career, I was perhaps too near
the brink of the precipice. Some mishaps I prepared by my own
folly, others came upon me unawares. I put my estate out to
nurse to a fat man of business, who smothered the babe he should
have brought back to me in health and strength, and, in dispute
with this honest gentleman, I found, like a skilful general, that
my position would be most judiciously assumed by taking it up
near the Abbey of Holyrood. [See Note 1.--Holyrood.] It was then
I first became acquainted with the quarter, which my little work
will, I hope, render immortal, and grew familiar with those
magnificent wilds, through which the Kings of Scotland once
chased the dark-brown deer, but which were chiefly recommended to
me in those days, by their being inaccessible to those
metaphysical persons, whom the law of the neighbouring country
terms John Doe and Richard Roe. In short, the precincts of the
palace are now best known as being a place of refuge at any time
from all pursuit for civil debt.
Dire was the strife betwixt my quondam doer and myself; during
which my motions were circumscribed, like those of some conjured
demon, within a circle, which, "beginning at the northern gate of
the King's Park, thence running northways, is bounded on the left
by the King's garden-wall, and the gutter, or kennel, in a line
wherewith it crosses the High Street to the Watergate, and
passing through the sewer, is bounded by the walls of the Tennis
Court and Physic Gardens, etc. It then follows the wall of the
churchyard, joins the north west wall of St Ann's Yards, and
going east to the clackmill-house, turns southward to the
turnstile in the King's Park wall, and includes the whole King's
Park within the Sanctuary."
These limits, which I abridge from the accurate Maitland, once
marked the Girth, or Asylum, belonging to the Abbey of Holyrood,
and which, being still an appendage to the royal palace, has
retained the privilege of an asylum for civil debt. One would
think the space sufficiently extensive for a man to stretch his
limbs in, as, besides a reasonable proportion of level ground
(considering that the scene lies in Scotland), it includes within
its precincts the mountain of Arthur's Seat and the rocks and
pasture land called Salisbury Crags. But yet it is inexpressible
how, after a certain time had elapsed, I used to long for Sunday,
which permitted me to extend my walk without limitation. During
the other six days of the week I felt a sickness of heart, which,
but for the speedy approach of the hebdomadal day of liberty, I
could hardly have endured. I experienced the impatience of a
mastiff who tugs in vain to extend the limits which his chain
Day after day I walked by the side of the kennel which divides
the Sanctuary from the unprivileged part of the Canongate; and
though the month was July, and the scene the old town of
Edinburgh, I preferred it to the fresh air and verdant turf which
I might have enjoyed in the King's Park, or to the cool and
solemn gloom of the portico which surrounds the palace. To an
indifferent person either side of the gutter would have seemed
much the same, the houses equally mean, the children as ragged
and dirty, the carmen as brutal--the whole forming the same
picture of low life in a deserted and impoverished quarter of a
large city. But to me the gutter or kennel was what the brook
Kidron was to Shimei: death was denounced against him should he
cross it, doubtless because it was known to his wisdom who
pronounced the doom that, from the time the crossing the stream
was debarred, the devoted man's desire to transgress the precept
would become irresistible, and he would be sure to draw down on
his head the penalty which he had already justly incurred by
cursing the anointed of God. For my part, all Elysium seemed
opening on the other side of the kennel; and I envied the little
blackguards, who, stopping the current with their little dam-
dykes of mud, had a right to stand on either side of the nasty
puddle which best pleased them. I was so childish as even to
make an occasional excursion across, were it only for a few
yards, and felt the triumph of a schoolboy, who, trespassing in
an orchard, hurries back again with a fluttering sensation of joy
and terror, betwixt the pleasure of having executed his purpose
and the fear of being taken or discovered.
I have sometimes asked myself what I should have done in case of
actual imprisonment, since I could not bear without impatience a
restriction which is comparatively a mere trifle; but I really
could never answer the question to my own satisfaction. I have
all my life hated those treacherous expedients called MEZZO-
TERMINI, and it is possible with this disposition I might have
endured more patiently an absolute privation of liberty than the
more modified restrictions to which my residence in the Sanctuary
at this period subjected me. If, however, the feelings I then
experienced were to increase in intensity according to the
difference between a jail and my actual condition, I must have
hanged myself, or pined to death--there could have been no other
Amongst many companions who forgot and neglected me, of course,
when my difficulties seemed to be inextricable, I had one true
friend; and that friend was a barrister, who knew the laws of his
country well, and tracing them up to the spirit of equity and
justice in which they originate, had repeatedly prevented, by his
benevolent and manly exertions, the triumphs of selfish cunning
over simplicity and folly. He undertook my cause, with the
assistance of a solicitor of a character similar to his own. My
quondam doer had ensconced himself chin-deep among legal
trenches, hornworks, and covered ways; but my two protectors
shelled him out of his defences, and I was at length a free man,
at liberty to go or stay wheresoever my mind listed.
I left my lodgings as hastily as if it had been a pest-house. I
did not even stop to receive some change that was due to me on
settling with my landlady, and I saw the poor woman stand at her
door looking after my precipitate flight, and shaking her head as
she wrapped the silver which she was counting for me in a
separate piece of paper, apart from the store in her own moleskin
purse. An honest Highlandwoman was Janet MacEvoy, and deserved a
greater remuneration, had I possessed the power of bestowing it.
But my eagerness of delight was too extreme to pause for
explanation with Janet. On I pushed through the groups of
children, of whose sports I had been so often a lazy, lounging
spectator. I sprung over the gutter as if it had been the fatal
Styx, and I a ghost, which, eluding Pluto's authority, was making
its escape from Limbo lake. My friend had difficulty to restrain
me from running like a madman up the street; and in spite of his
kindness and hospitality, which soothed me for a day or two, I
was not quite happy until I found myself aboard of a Leith smack,
and, standing down the Firth with a fair wind, might snap my
fingers at the retreating outline of Arthur's Seat, to the
vicinity of which I had been so long confined.
It is not my purpose to trace my future progress through life. I
had extricated myself, or rather had been freed by my friends,
from the brambles and thickets of the law; but, as befell the
sheep in the fable, a great part of my fleece was left behind me.
Something remained, however: I was in the season for exertion,
and, as my good mother used to say, there was always life for
living folk. Stern necessity gave my manhood that prudence which
my youth was a stranger to. I faced danger, I endured fatigue, I
sought foreign climates, and proved that I belonged to the nation
which is proverbially patient of labour and prodigal of life.
Independence, like liberty to Virgil's shepherd, came late, but
came at last, with no great affluence in its train, but bringing
enough to support a decent appearance for the rest of my life,
and to induce cousins to be civil, and gossips to say, "I wonder
whom old Croft will make his heir? He must have picked up
something, and I should not be surprised if it prove more than
folk think of."
My first impulse when I returned home was to rush to the house of
my benefactor, the only man who had in my distress interested
himself in my behalf. He was a snuff-taker, and it had been the
pride of my heart to save the IPSA CORPORA of the first score of
guineas I could hoard, and to have them converted into as
tasteful a snuff-box as Rundell and Bridge could devise. This I
had thrust for security into the breast of my waistcoat, while,
impatient to transfer it to the person for whom it was destined,
I hastened to his house in Brown Square. When the front of the
house became visible a feeling of alarm checked me. I had been
long absent from Scotland; my friend was some years older than I;
he might have been called to the congregation of the just. I
paused, and gazed on the house as if I had hoped to form some
conjecture from the outward appearance concerning the state of
the family within. I know not how it was, but the lower windows
being all closed, and no one stirring, my sinister forebodings
were rather strengthened. I regretted now that I had not made
inquiry before I left the inn where I alighted from the mail-
coach. But it was too late; so I hurried on, eager to know the
best or the worst which I could learn.
The brass-plate bearing my friend's name and designation was
still on the door, and when it was opened the old domestic
appeared a good deal older, I thought, than he ought naturally to
have looked, considering the period of my absence. "Is Mr.
Sommerville at home?" said I, pressing forward.
"Yes, sir," said John, placing himself in opposition to my
entrance, "he is at home, but--"
"But he is not in," said I. "I remember your phrase of old,
John. Come, I will step into his room, and leave a line for
John was obviously embarrassed by my familiarity. I was some
one, he saw, whom he ought to recollect. At the same time it was
evident he remembered nothing about me.
"Ay, sir, my master is in, and in his own room, but--"
I would not hear him out, but passed before him towards the well-
known apartment. A young lady came out of the room a little
disturbed, as it seemed, and said, "John, what is the matter?"
"A gentleman, Miss Nelly, that insists on seeing my master."
"A very old and deeply-indebted friend," said I, "that ventures
to press myself on my much-respected benefactor on my return from
"Alas, sir," replied she, "my uncle would be happy to see you,
At this moment something was heard within the apartment like the
falling of a plate, or glass, and immediately after my friend's
voice called angrily and eagerly for his niece. She entered the
room hastily, and so did I. But it was to see a spectacle,
compared with which that of my benefactor stretched on his bier
would have been a happy one.
The easy-chair filled with cushions, the extended limbs swathed
in flannel, the wide wrapping-gown and nightcap, showed illness;
but the dimmed eye, once so replete with living fire--the blabber
lip, whose dilation and compression used to give such character
to his animated countenance--the stammering tongue, that once
poured forth such floods of masculine eloquence, and had often
swayed the opinion of the sages whom he addressed,--all these sad
symptoms evinced that my friend was in the melancholy condition
of those in whom the principle of animal life has unfortunately
survived that of mental intelligence. He gazed a moment at me,
but then seemed insensible of my presence, and went on--he, once
the most courteous and well-bred--to babble unintelligible but
violent reproaches against his niece and servant, because he
himself had dropped a teacup in attempting to place it on a table
at his elbow. His eyes caught a momentary fire from his
irritation; but he struggled in vain for words to express himself
adequately, as, looking from his servant to his niece, and then
to the table, he laboured to explain that they had placed it
(though it touched his chair) at too great a distance from him.
The young person, who had naturally a resigned Madonna-like
expression of countenance, listened to his impatient chiding with
the most humble submission, checked the servant, whose less
delicate feelings would have entered on his justification, and
gradually, by the sweet and soft tone of her voice, soothed to
rest the spirit of causeless irritation.
She then cast a look towards me, which expressed, "You see all
that remains of him whom you call friend." It seemed also to
say, "Your longer presence here can only be distressing to us
"Forgive me, young lady," I said, as well as tears would permit;
"I am a person deeply obliged to your uncle. My name is
"Lord! and that I should not hae minded ye, Maister Croftangry,"
said the servant. "Ay, I mind my master had muckle fash about
your job. I hae heard him order in fresh candles as midnight
chappit, and till't again. Indeed, ye had aye his gude word, Mr.
Croftangry, for a' that folks said about you."
"Hold your tongue, John," said the lady, somewhat angrily; and
then continued, addressing herself to me, "I am sure, sir, you
must be sorry to see my uncle in this state. I know you are his
friend. I have heard him mention your name, and wonder he never
heard from you." A new cut this, and it went to my heart. But
she continued, "I really do not know if it is right that any
should--If my uncle should know you, which I scarce think
possible, he would be much affected, and the doctor says that any
agitation--But here comes Dr. -- to give his own opinion."
Dr. -- entered. I had left him a middle-aged man. He was now an
elderly one; but still the same benevolent Samaritan, who went
about doing good, and thought the blessings of the poor as good a
recompense of his professional skill as the gold of the rich.
He looked at me with surprise, but the young lady said a word of
introduction, and I, who was known to the doctor formerly,
hastened to complete it. He recollected me perfectly, and
intimated that he was well acquainted with the reasons I had for
being deeply interested in the fate of his patient. He gave me a
very melancholy account of my poor friend, drawing me for that
purpose a little apart from the lady. "The light of life," he
said, "was trembling in the socket; he scarcely expected it would
ever leap up even into a momentary flash, but more was
impossible." He then stepped towards his patient, and put some
questions, to which the poor invalid, though he seemed to
recognize the friendly and familiar voice, answered only in a
faltering and uncertain manner.
The young lady, in her turn, had drawn back when the doctor
approached his patient. "You see how it is with him," said the
doctor, addressing me. "I have heard our poor friend, in one of
the most eloquent of his pleadings, give a description of this
very disease, which he compared to the tortures inflicted by
Mezentius when he chained the dead to the living. The soul, he
said, is imprisoned in its dungeon of flesh, and though retaining
its natural and unalienable properties, can no more exert them
than the captive enclosed within a prison-house can act as a free
agent. Alas! to see HIM, who could so well describe what this
malady was in others, a prey himself to its infirmities! I shall
never forget the solemn tone of expression with which he summed
up the incapacities of the paralytic--the deafened ear, the
dimmed eye, the crippled limbs--in the noble words of Juvenal,--
Membrorum damno major, dementia, quae nec
Nomina servorum, nec vultum agnoscit amici.'"
As the physician repeated these lines, a flash of intelligence
seemed to revive in the invalid's eye--sunk again--again
struggled, and he spoke more intelligibly than before, and in the
tone of one eager to say something which he felt would escape him
unless said instantly. "A question of death-bed, a question of
death-bed, doctor--a reduction EX CAPITE LECTI--Withering against
Wilibus--about the MORBUS SONTICUS. I pleaded the cause for
the pursuer--I, and--and--why, I shall forget my own name--I,
and--he that was the wittiest and the best-humoured man living--"
The description enabled the doctor to fill up the blank, and the
patient joyfully repeated the name suggested. "Ay, ay," he said,
"just he--Harry--poor Harry--" The light in his eye died away,
and he sunk back in his easy-chair.
"You have now seen more of our poor friend, Mr. Croftangry," said
the physician, "than I dared venture to promise you; and now I
must take my professional authority on me, and ask you to retire.
Miss Sommerville will, I am sure, let you know if a moment should
by any chance occur when her uncle can see you."
What could I do? I gave my card to the young lady, and taking my
offering from my bosom--"if my poor friend," I said, with accents
as broken almost as his own, "should ask where this came from,
name me, and say from the most obliged and most grateful man
alive. Say, the gold of which it is composed was saved by grains
at a time, and was hoarded with as much avarice as ever was a
miser's. To bring it here I have come a thousand miles; and now,
alas, I find him thus!"
I laid the box on the table, and was retiring with a lingering
step. The eye of the invalid was caught by it, as that of a
child by a glittering toy, and with infantine impatience he
faltered out inquiries of his niece. With gentle mildness she
repeated again and again who I was, and why I came, etc. I was
about to turn, and hasten from a scene so painful, when the
physician laid his hand on my sleeve. "Stop," he said, "there is
There was, indeed, and a marked one. A faint glow spread over
his pallid features--they seemed to gain the look of intelligence
which belongs to vitality--his eye once more kindled--his lip
coloured--and drawing himself up out of the listless posture he
had hitherto maintained, he rose without assistance. The doctor
and the servant ran to give him their support. He waved them
aside, and they were contented to place themselves in such a
position behind as might ensure against accident, should his
newly-acquired strength decay as suddenly as it had revived.
"My dear Croftangry," he said, in the tone of kindness of other
days, "I am glad to see you returned. You find me but poorly;
but my little niece here and Dr. -- are very kind. God bless
you, my dear friend! We shall not meet again till we meet in a
I pressed his extended hand to my lips--I pressed it to my bosom
--I would fain have flung myself on my knees; but the doctor,
leaving the patient to the young lady and the servant, who
wheeled forward his chair, and were replacing him in it, hurried
me out of the room. "My dear sir," he said, "you ought to be
satisfied; you have seen our poor invalid more like his former
self than he has been for months, or than he may be perhaps again
until all is over. The whole Faculty could not have assured such
an interval. I must see whether anything can be derived from it
to improve the general health. Pray, begone." The last argument
hurried me from the spot, agitated by a crowd of feelings, all of
When I had overcome the shock of this great disappointment, I
renewed gradually my acquaintance with one or two old companions,
who, though of infinitely less interest to my feelings than my
unfortunate friend, served to relieve the pressure of actual
solitude, and who were not perhaps the less open to my advances
that I was a bachelor somewhat stricken in years, newly arrived
from foreign parts, and certainly independent, if not wealthy.
I was considered as a tolerable subject of speculation by some,
and I could not be burdensome to any. I was therefore, according
to the ordinary rule of Edinburgh hospitality, a welcome guest in
several respectable families. But I found no one who could
replace the loss I had sustained in my best friend and
benefactor. I wanted something more than mere companionship
could give me, and where was I to look for it? Among the
scattered remnants of those that had been my gay friends of yore?
"Many a lad I loved was dead,
And many a lass grown old."
Besides, all community of ties between us had ceased to exist,
and such of former friends as were still in the world held their
life in a different tenor from what I did.
Some had become misers, and were as eager in saving sixpence as
ever they had been in spending a guinea. Some had turned
agriculturists; their talk was of oxen, and they were only fit
companions for graziers. Some stuck to cards, and though no
longer deep gamblers, rather played small game than sat out.
This I particularly despised. The strong impulse of gaming,
alas! I had felt in my time. It is as intense as it is
criminal; but it produces excitation and interest, and I can
conceive how it should become a passion with strong and powerful
minds. But to dribble away life in exchanging bits of painted
pasteboard round a green table for the piddling concern of a few
shillings, can only be excused in folly or superannuation. It is
like riding on a rocking-horse, where your utmost exertion never
carries you a foot forward; it is a kind of mental treadmill,
where you are perpetually climbing, but can never rise an inch.
From these hints, my readers will perceive I am incapacitated for
one of the pleasures of old age, which, though not mentioned by
Cicero, is not the least frequent resource in the present day--
the club-room, and the snug hand at whist.
To return to my old companions. Some frequented public
assemblies, like the ghost of Beau Nash, or any other beau of
half a century back, thrust aside by tittering youth, and pitied
by those of their own age. In fine, some went into devotion, as
the French term it, and others, I fear, went to the devil; a few
found resources in science and letters; one or two turned
philosophers in a small way, peeped into microscopes, and became
familiar with the fashionable experiments of the day; some took
to reading, and I was one of them.
Some grains of repulsion towards the society around me--some
painful recollections of early faults and follies--some touch of
displeasure with living mankind--inclined me rather to a study of
antiquities, and particularly those of my own country. The
reader, if I can prevail on myself to continue the present work,
will probably be able to judge in the course of it whether I have
made any useful progress in the study of the olden times.
I owed this turn of study, in part, to the conversation of my
kind man of business, Mr. Fairscribe, whom I mentioned as having
seconded the efforts of my invaluable friend in bringing the
cause on which my liberty and the remnant of my property depended
to a favourable decision. He had given me a most kind reception
on my return. He was too much engaged in his profession for me
to intrude on him often, and perhaps his mind was too much
trammelled with its details to permit his being willingly
withdrawn from them. In short, he was not a person of my poor
friend Sommerville's expanded spirit, and rather a lawyer of the
ordinary class of formalists; but a most able and excellent man.
When my estate was sold! he retained some of the older title-
deeds, arguing, from his own feelings, that they would be of more
consequence to the heir of the old family than to the new
purchaser. And when I returned to Edinburgh, and found him still
in the exercise of the profession to which he was an honour, he
sent to my lodgings the old family Bible, which lay always on my
father's table, two or three other mouldy volumes, and a couple
of sheepskin bags full of parchments and papers, whose appearance
was by no means inviting.
The next time I shared Mr. Fairscribe's hospitable dinner, I
failed not to return him due thanks for his kindness, which
acknowledgment, indeed, I proportioned rather to the idea which I
knew he entertained of the value of such things, than to the
interest with which I myself regarded them. But the conversation
turning on my family, who were old proprietors in the Upper Ward
of Clydesdale, gradually excited some interest in my mind and
when I retired to my solitary parlour, the first thing I did was
to look for a pedigree or sort of history of the family or House
of Croftangry, once of that Ilk, latterly of Glentanner. The
discoveries which I made shall enrich the next chapter.
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