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IN the course of an article on "Burns and his School," in the North British Review, of November, 1851, conceived in a kindred spirit, the writer gives the following cordial appreciation of the Life and Writings of Nicoll, which will be read with interest by all admirers of the Poet:—

    Perhaps the young peasant who most expressly stands out as the pupil and successor of Burns, is Robert Nicoll.  He is a lesser poet, doubtless, than his master, and a lesser man, if the size and number of his capabilities be looked at; but he is a greater man, in that, from the beginning to the end of his career, he seems to have kept that very wholeness of heart and head which poor Burns lost.  Nicoll's story is, mutatis mutandis, that of the Bethunes, and many a noble young Scotsman more.  Parents holding a farm between Perth and Dunkeld, they and theirs before them for generations inhabitants of the neighbourhood, "decent, honest, God-fearing people."  The farm is lost by reverses, and manfully Robert Nicoll's father becomes a day-labourer on the fields which he lately rented: and there begins, for the boy, from his earliest recollections, a life of steady, sturdy drudgery.  But they must have been grand old folk these parents, and in nowise addicted to wringing their hands over "the great might-have-been."  Like true Scots Bible-lovers, they do believe in a God, and in a will of God, underlying, absolute, loving, and believe that the might-have-been ought not to have been, simply because it has not been; and so they put their shoulders to the new collar patiently, cheerfully, hopefully, and teach the boys to do the same.  The mother especially, as so many great men's mothers do, stands out large and heroic, from the time when, the farm being gone, she, "the ardent book woman," finds her time too precious to be spent in reading, and sets little Robert to read to her as she works—what a picture!—to the last sad day, when, wanting money to come up to Leeds to see her dying darling, she "shore for the siller," rather than borrow it.  And her son's life is like her own—the most pure, joyous, valiant little epic.  Robert does not even take to work as something beyond himself, uninteresting and painful, which, however, must be done courageously: he lives in it, enjoys it as his proper element, one which is no more a burden and an exertion to him than the rush of the strid is to the trout who plays and feeds in it day and night, unconscious of the amount of muscular strength which he puts forth in merely keeping his place in the stream.  Whether carrying Kennilworth in his plaid to the woods, to read while herding, or selling currants and whisky as the Perth storekeeper's apprentice, or keeping his little circulating library in Dundee, tormenting his pure heart with the thought of the twenty pounds which his mother has borrowed wherewith to start him, or editing the Leeds Times, or lying on his early deathbed, just as life seems to be opening clear and broad before him, he "Bates not a jot of heart or hope," but steers right onward, singing over his work, without bluster, or self-gratulation, but for very joy at having work to do.  There is a keen practical insight about him, rarely combined, in these days, with his single-minded determination to do good in his generation.  His eye is single, and his whole body full of light.

    "It would indeed," writes the grocer's boy, encouraging his despondent and somewhat Werterean friend, "be hangman's work to write articles one day to be forgotten to-morrow, if that were all; but you forget the comfort—the repayment.  If one prejudice is overthrown, one error rendered untenable; if but one step in advance be the consequence of your articles and mine—the consequences of the labour of all true men—are we not deeply repaid?"  Or again, in a right noble letter to his noble mother:—

"That money of R.'s hangs like a mill-stone about my neck.  If I had paid it, I would never borrow again from mortal man.  But do not mistake me, mother; I am not one of those men who faint and falter in the great battle of life.  God has given me too strong a heart for that. I look upon earth as a place where every man is set to struggle and to work, that he may be made humble and pure-hearted, and fit for that better land for which earth is a preparation—to which earth is the gate. . . . If men would but consider how little of real evil there is in all the ills of which they are so much afraid—poverty included—there would be more virtue and happiness, and less world and Mammon-worship on earth than is.  I think, mother, that to me has been given talent; and if so, that talent was given to make it useful to man."

And yet, there is a quiet self-respect about him withal:—

    "In my short course through life," says he in confidence to a friend at one-and-twenty, "I have never feared an enemy, or failed a friend; and I live in the hope I never shall.  For the rest, I have written my heart in my poems; and rude and unfinished, and hasty as they are, it can be read there."

    "From seven years of age to this very hour, I have been dependent only on my own head and hands for everything—for very bread.  Long years ago—aye, even in childhood—adversity made me think, and feel, and suffer; and would pride allow me, I could tell the world many a deep tragedy enacted in the heart of a poor, forgotten, uncared-for boy. . . .  . But I thank God, that though I felt and suffered, the scathing blast neither blunted my perceptions of natural and moral beauty, nor, by withering the affections of my heart, made me a selfish man.  Often when I look back I wonder how I bore the burden—how I did not end the evil day at once and for ever."

    Such is the man, in his normal state; and as was to be expected, God's blessing rests on him.  Whatever he sets his hand to, succeeds.  Within a few weeks of his taking the editorship of the Leeds Times, its circulation begins to rise rapidly, as was to be expected with an honest man to guide it.  For Nicoll's political creed, though perhaps neither very deep nor wide, lies clear and single before him, as everything else which he does.  He believes naturally enough in ultra-Radicalism according to the fashions of the Reform Bill era.  That is the right thing; and for that he will work day and night, body and soul, and if needs be, die.  There, in the editor's den at Leeds, he "begins to see the truth of what you told me about the world's unworthiness; but stop a little.  I am not sad as yet. . . . If I am hindered from feeling the soul of poetry among woods and fields, I yet trust I am struggling for something worth prizing—something of which I am not ashamed, and need not be.  If there be aught on earth worth aspiring to, it is the lot of him who is enabled to do something for his miserable and suffering fellow-men; and this you and I will try to do at least."  His friend is put to work [on] a ministerial paper, with orders "not to be rash, but to elevate the population gradually;" and finding those orders to imply a considerable leaning towards the By-ends, Lukewarm, and Facing-both-ways school, kicks over the traces, wisely, in Nicoll's eyes, and breaks loose.

    "Keep up your spirits," says honest Nicoll.  "You are higher at this moment in my estimation, in your own, and that of every honest man, than you ever were before.  Tait's advice was just such as I should have expected of him; honest as honesty itself.  You must never again accept a paper but where you can tell the whole truth without fear or favour. . . . Tell E. (the broken-loose editor's lady-love) from me to estimate as she ought, the nobility and determination of the man who has dared to act as you have done.  Prudent men will say that you are hasty: but you have done right, whatever may be the consequences."

    This is the spirit of Robert Nicoll; the spirit which is the fruit of early purity and self-restraint, of living "on bread and cheese and water," that he may buy books; of walking out to the Inch of Perth at four o'clock on summer mornings, to write and read in peace before he returns to the currants and the whisky.  The nervous simplicity of the man comes out in the very nervous simplicity of the prose he writes; and though there be nothing very new or elevated in it, or indeed in his poems themselves, we call on our readers to admire a phenomenon so rare, in the "upper classes" at least, in these days, and taking a lesson from the peasant's son, rejoice with us that "a man is born into the world."

    For Nicoll, as few do, practises what he preaches.  It seems to him, once on a time, right and necessary that Sir William Molesworth should be returned for Leeds; and Nicoll having so determined, "throws himself, body and soul, into the contest, with such ardour, that his wife afterwards said, and we can well believe it, that if Sir William had failed, Robert would have died on the instant!"—why not?  Having once made up his mind that that was the just and right thing, the thing which was absolutely good for Leeds, and the human beings who lived in it, was it not a thing to die for, even if it had been but the election of a new beadle?  The advanced sentry is set to guard some obscure worthless dike-end—obscure and worthless in itself, but to him a centre of infinite duty.  True, the fate of the camp does not depend on its being taken; if the enemy round it, there are plenty behind to blow them out again.  But that is no reason whatsoever why he, before any odds, should throw his musket over his shoulder and retreat gracefully to the lines.  He was set there to stand by that, whether dike-end or representation of Leeds; that is the right thing for him; and for that right he will fight, and if he be killed, die.  So have all brave men felt, and so have all brave deeds been done, since man walked the earth.  It is because that spirit, the spirit of faith, has died out among us, that so few brave deeds are done now, except on battle-fields, and in hovels whereof none but God and the angels know.

    So the man prospers.  Several years of honourable and selfrestraining love bring him a wife, beautiful, loving, worshipping his talents; a help meet for him, such as God will send at times to those whom he loves.  Kind men meet and love and help him—"The Johnstones, Mr. Tait, William and Mary Howitt;" Sir William Molesworth, hearing of his last illness, sends hint unsolicited fifty pounds, which, as we understand it, Nicoll accepts without foolish bluster about independence.  Why not?—man should help man, and be helped by him.  Would he not have done as much for Sir William?  Nothing to us proves Nicoll's heart-wholeness more than the way in which he talks of his benefactors, in a tone of simple gratitude and affection, without fawning, and without vapouring.  The man has too much self-respect to consider himself lowered by accepting a favour.

    But he must go after all.  The editor's den at Leeds is not the place for lungs bred on Perthshire breezes; and work rises before hint, huger and heavier as he goes on, till he drops under the ever increasing load.  He will not believe it at first.  In sweet childlike playful letters he tells his mother that it is nothing.  It has done him good—"opened the grave before his eyes, and taught him to think of death."  "He trusts that he has not borne this, and suffered, and thought in vain."  This too, he hopes, is to be a fresh lesson-page of experience for his work.  Alas! a few months more of bitter suffering and of generous kindness, and love from all around him, and it is over with him, at the age of twenty-three.  Shall we regret him?—shall we not rather believe that God knew best, and considering the unhealthy moral atmosphere of the press, and the strange confused ways into which old ultra-Radicalism, finding itself too narrow for the problems of the day, has stumbled and floundered in the last fifteen years, believe that he might have been a worse man had he been a longer-lived one, and thank Heaven that "the righteous is taken away from the evil to come?"

    As it is, he ends as he began.  The first poem in his book is "The Ha' Bible;" and the last, written a few days before his death, is still the death-song of a man-without fear, without repining, without boasting, blessing and loving the earth which he leaves, yet with a clear and joyful eye upwards and outwards and homewards.  And so ends his little epic, as we called it.  May Scotland see many such another!

    The actual poetic value of his verses is not first-rate by any means.  He is far inferior to Burns in range of subject, as he is in humour and pathos.  Indeed, there is very little of these latter qualities in him anywhere—rather playfulness, flashes of child-like fun, as in "The Provost," and "Bonnie Bessie Lee."  But he has attained a mastery over English, a simplicity and quiet which Burns never did; and also, we need not say, a moral purity.  His "poems, illustrative of the Scottish peasantry," are charming throughout—alive and bright with touches of real humanity, and sympathy with characters apparently antipodal to his own.

    His more earnest poems are somewhat tainted with that cardinal fault of his school, of which he steered so clear in prose—fine words; yet he never, like the Corn-Law Rhymer, falls a cursing.  He is evidently not a good hater even of "priests and kings, and aristocrats, and superstition;" or perhaps he worked all that froth safely over and off in debating-club speeches and leading articles, and left us, in these poems, the genuine Metheglin of his inner heart, sweet, clear, and strong; for there is no form of loveable or right thing which this man has come across, which he does not seem to have appreciated.  Beside pure love and the beauties of nature, those on which every man of poetic power—and a great many of none, as a matter of course, have a word to say, he can feel for and with the drunken beggar, and the warriors of the ruined manor-house, and the monks of the abbey, and the old-mailed Normans with their "priest with cross and counted beads in the little Saxon chapel"—things which a radical editor might have been excused for passing by with a sneer.

    His verses to his wife are a delicious little glimpse of Eden; and his "People's Anthem" (see p. 107), rises into somewhat of true grandeur by virtue of simplicity:—

"Lord, from Thy blessed throne,
Sorrow look down upon!
                      God save the Poor!
Teach them true liberty—
Make them from tyrants free—
Let their homes happy be!
                      God save the Poor!

"The arms of wicked men
Do Thou with might restrain—
                      God save the Poor!
Raise Thou their lowliness—
Succour Thou their distress—
Thou whom the meanest bless!
                      God save the Poor!

"Give them staunch honesty—
Let their pride manly be—
                      God save the Poor!
Help them to hold the right;
Give them both truth and might,
Lord of all LIFE and LIGHT!
                      God save the Poor!"

    And so we leave ROBERT NICOLL, with the parting remark, that if the "poems illustrative of the feelings of the intelligent and religions among the working-classes of Scotland" be fair samples of that which they profess to be, Scotland may thank God, that in spite of glen-clearings and temporary manufacturing rot-heaps, she is still whole at heart, and that the influence of her great peasant poet, though it may seem at first likely to be adverse to Christianity, has helped, as we have already hinted, to purify and not to taint; to destroy the fungus, but not to touch the heart of the grand old Covenant-kirk life-tree.





"I HAVE written my heart in my Poems; and rude, unfinished, and hasty as they are, it can be read there."  Thus wrote Robert Nicoll to a stranger whose literary talents he admired, and to whom he had sent a copy of his poems, when that individual, appreciating the gift, requested to learn something more of the giver.

    There is certainly no collection of poems in the language which more vividly reflects the character, tastes, and tendencies of the writer at the age at which they were composed.  And NICOLL'S future life was so brief that there was not time for material change, although he could ever have become any other man than the one indicated by his youthful poetry; than the lover and worshipper of unadorned Nature, the poet of the social and domestic affections, and, above all, the apostle of the moral, and of what he considered no mean part of the self-same thing, the political regeneration of society.  But if his heart may be read in his book, that book is also the substantial record of his life; and an attempt to illustrate its contents from personal knowledge, and by a few facts and gleanings from his scanty correspondence, is all that is proposed in the present Sketch.

    Nicoll's life was as simple and uneventful, as it was short, bright, and unspotted.  His future biographer will have few events to relate, and no youthful follies or frailties to extenuate, or none that his friends could perceive—and he never had a enemy.  His moral and intellectual qualities were in all respects happily balanced.  He had none of the oddities or eccentricities of self-taught men; and his sterling good sense was at least commensurate with his genius, and with his mental activity and energy.  He was one of those youths of whom the most prosaic might have safely predicted, that if life and health were spared, he must, in spite of the dangerous gift of poetic genius, become a prosperous, and, in any case, a good and a respected man; for he possessed, in ample measure, those qualities which insure success in life of the highest kind, and in the best way.

    But youths and men like ROBERT NICOLL do not, even in his favoured native land, spring out of the earth in a genial, warm morning, like a crop of mushrooms.  God had endowed him with many precious gifts; but these might either have long lain dormant, or have been for ever extinguished, save for the added blessings which called them into early activity.  The discipline of adversity was not wanting; and among the happy influences that were around his childhood, was having a mother worthy of such a son.  To his mother, NICOLL, in after-life, attributed whatever of distinction he had attained.  Thus, the theory, whether fanciful or not, that the mother is her children's mental ancestor, receives another confirmation in the case of the subject of this Sketch.  There is, however, no fancy in saying that his mother was his first and best instructor; his educator in the highest and widest sense of the term.

    ROBERT NICOLL was born on the 7th January, 1814, in the farmhouse of Little Tulliebeltane, in the parish of Auchtergaven, in Perthshire, which lies nearly half-way between Perth and Dunkeld.  His father, Mr. Robert Nicoll, was at that period a farmer, in comfortable circumstances for his station and locality; his mother was Grace Fenwick, one of the daughters of that venerable Seceder, "Elder John," of whom NICOLL speaks so frequently and affectionately in his poems.  ROBERT was the second son, in a family of nine children.  His elder brother died in childhood, and ROBERT thus became the "eldest son."  Both the families from which he immediately sprang had been settled for generations in the same neighbourhood, and counted a long pedigree of the kind that is still the proudest boast of rural Scotland—decent, honest God-fearing people.  By the recollection of his mother, ROBERT, when nine months old, could speak as infants speak; at eighteen months, he knew his letters; and when five years old he could read the New Testament.  His mother had up to this time had leisure to be the teacher of her intelligent and lively child: but now woeful reverse was impending over the family.  Mr. Nicoll had become security, to the amount of five or six hundred pounds, for a connection by marriage, who failed and absconded; and the utter ruin of his own family was the almost immediate consequence.  He gave up his entire property to satisfy the creditors of this individual; he lost even the lease of his farm, and, with his wife and several young children, left the farmhouse, and became a day-labourer on the fields he had lately rented; with nothing to sustain his wife and himself save the consciousness of unblemished and unblamed integrity.  ROBERT NICOLL was thus, from the date of his earliest recollection, the son of a very poor man, the inmate of a very lowly home, the eldest of a struggling family.  Field-labour was the daily lot of his father, and at certain seasons of the year, of his mother also, as far as was compatible with the care of her young and increasing family; and the children, as soon as they were considered fit for labour, were, one by one, set to work.  Yet that goodness and mercy which temper the severest lot of the virtuous poor were around them; and at the lowest ebb of their fortunes, many of the best blessings of life must have mingled with, and sweetened, their toils and hardships.  That could not have been other than a cheerful as well as a happy home and hearth, from which sprang the germs of NICOLL'S poetry—his songs, his descriptions of rustic manners, and his humorous portraits of rustic contemporaries.

    But it is wished, as far as possible, that NICOLL should here tell his own story.  In 1834, and when ROBERT had just completed his twentieth year, Mr. Johnstone of Edinburgh, who had received many communications from him, was induced to make some inquiry about an obscure youth in Perth, not yet quite perfect in his orthography, but who wrote very promising verses, and what was much more remarkable, vigorous radical prose, breathing a high moral tone.  In reply to Mr. Johnstone's inquiry, young NICOLL sent him a sketch of his history.  Having told of his father's misfortunes, he says:—"He was ruined 'out of house and hold.'  From that day to this, he has gained his own and his children's bread by the sweat of his brow.  I was then too young to know the full extent of our misfortunes; but young as I was, I saw and felt a great change.  My mother, in her early years, was an ardent book-woman.  When she became poor, her time was too precious to admit of its being spent in reading, and I generally read to her while she was working; for she took care that her children should not want education.  Ever since I can remember, I was a keen and earnest reader.  Before I was six years of age, I read every book that came in my way, and had gone twice through my grandfather's small collection, though I had never been at school.

    "When I had attained my sixth year, I was sent to the parish school, which was three miles distant, and I generally read going and returning.  To this day, I can walk as quickly as my neighbours, and read at the same time with the greatest ease.  I was sent to the herding at seven years of age, and continued herding all summer, and attending school all winter with my ‘fee.’"

    In a few notes written by NICOLL'S younger brother, Mr. William Nicoll, in adverting to ROBERT'S childhood, it is said:—"Even at this early period, ROBERT was a voracious reader, and never went to the herding without a book in his plaid; and he generally read both going and returning from school.  From his studious disposition, though a favourite with the other boys from his sweetness of temper, he hardly ever went by any other name than The Minister.   When about twelve, he was taken from herding, and sent to work in the garden of a neighbouring proprietor.  With the difference, that he had now less time for reading than before, the change in his employment made very little change in his habits.  He went to school during the winter as usual."

    In one of these winters he began the Latin Rudiments; and, besides writing and accounts, he seems to have acquired some knowledge of geometry.  We should, however, say, that NICOLL knew little of any science, and nothing of any language, save English, and his own beautiful Doric.  He never made any pretensions of the sort.  His slight acquaintance with the Latin Rudiments must, however, have been of use to him when he subsequently taught himself grammar from Cobbett's useful Compendium.  But his regular school-learning, whatever its amount, was all acquired at intervals, and in the dull season of the year, when he could not work out of doors.

    His brother mentions, that when ROBERT was about fourteen, he attended a young student named Marshall—a person of great talent and promise—who opened a school in the neighbouring village, and who died in a year or two afterwards, much regretted.  Their connection was more like that of friends than of master and scholar; and comparing his own slender attainments with those of Marshall, ROBERT learnt the important secret of his own deficiencies, and was stimulated to more strenuous efforts. After Mr. Marshall had removed to another part of the country, Robert attended, for a short time, at schools taught by two other young men; and this, with six weeks at the parish school of Monedie, comprised the whole of his school-education; which, casual and slight as it may seem, gave him the elements of knowledge, and the invaluable power of self-improvement—all that, to a mind like his, was essential.  Before this time, and when he was between eleven and twelve, a book-club had been established in the village of the parish; and in his letter to Mr. Johnstone, he says, "When I had saved a sufficient quantity of silver coin, I became a member.  I had previously devoured all the books to be got for love, and I soon devoured all those in the library for money.  Besides, by that time I began to get larger 'fees,' and I was able to pay 1s. 6d, a month, for a month or two, to a bookseller in Perth, for reading.  From him I got many new works; and among the rest the Waverley Novels.  With them I was enchanted.  They opened up new sources of interest and thought, of which I before knew nothing.  I can yet look with no common feelings on the wood, in which, while herding, I read Kenilworth."

    Was that beautiful fiction, which, next to the Bride of Lammermoor, is the deepest tragedy that Scott has penned, ever more truly appreciated in the stately saloons and splendid drawing-rooms of grandeur and nobility, than by that poor, little herd-boy?  Has it ever, in such places, given equal pleasure? Greater it could not give.

    When about thirteen, NICOLL began to scribble his thoughts, and to make rhymes; and his brother relates, that he was so far honoured as, at this age, to become the correspondent of a provincial newspaper, the manager of which, in requital of small scraps of parish news, sent him an occasional number of the journal.  We cannot tell how ROBERT obtained this distinguished post; but the editor afterwards found a correspondent more suitable, at least in point of age, and ROBERT was deprived of his office.  His brother states, that he was somewhat chagrined at the abrupt disruption of this, his first connection with the press.

    It was probably in consequence of his acquaintance with Mr. Marshall, that the change thus described in his letter to Mr. Johnstone took place.

    "As nearly as I can remember, I began to write my thoughts when I was thirteen years of age, and continued to do so at intervals until I was sixteen, when, despairing of ever being able to write the English language correctly, I made a bonfire of my papers, and wrote no more till I was eighteen.

    “My excursive course of reading, among both poetry and prosers, gave me many pleasures of which my fellows knew nothing; but it likewise made me more sensitive to the insults and degradations that a dependent must suffer.  You cannot know the horrors of dependence; but I have felt them, and have registered a vow in heaven, that I shall be independent, though it be but on a crust and water.

    “To further my progress in life, I bound myself apprentice to Mrs. J. H. Robertson, wine-merchant and grocer in Perth.  When I came to Perth, I bought Cobbett's English Grammar, and by constant study soon made myself master of it, and then commenced writing as before; and you know the result.

    "When I first came to Perth, a gentleman lent me his right to the Perth Library, and thus I procured many works I could not get before; Milton's Prose Works, Locke's Works, and, what I prized more than all, a few of Bentham's, with many other works in various departments of literature and science, which I had not had the good fortune to read before.

    "I was twenty years of age in the month of January last; and my apprenticeship expires in September next.  By that time, I hope, by close study, to have made myself a good French scholar; and I intend, if I can raise the monies, to emigrate to the United States of North America.

    "I do not rate my literary productions too highly; but they have all a definite purpose—that of trying to raise the many.  I am a Radical in every sense of the term, and I must stand by my order.  I am employed in working for my mistress from seven o'clock in the morning until nine o'clock at night; and I must therefore write when others are asleep.  During winter, to sit without a fire is a hard task: but summer is now coming—and then!

    "It may, perhaps, appear ridiculous to fill a letter with babblings of one's self; but when a person who has never known any one interest themselves in him, who has existed as a cipher in society, is kindly asked to tell his own story, how he will gossip! . . . . . . . To Mrs. Johnstone and yourself, what can I say in return for your kindness? Nothing; but if ever I can return you good for good, I will do it."

    Such was the first letter that NICOLL had probably ever written to any one save his brother, then a school-boy, or his mother.  When he says, "I bound myself apprentice," he relates the simple fact; though a step of this important kind is usually taken by parents in behalf of their children.  But by this time he had been for nine or ten years earning "fees," the gentle name for wages in the rural parts of Scotland; and probably he was also in the habit of looking out for employment for himself.  The intelligent children of the poor early acquire habits of self-reliance and independence, of which those in different circumstances can have no idea.  Nay, besides acting for himself, ROBERT, as his mind expanded in the wider field of observation and actual business which Perth afforded him, acted in some respects for the whole family, some of whom, as they became fit for business, subsequently followed him into Perth, in capacities nearly similar to his own.  By a simple, and yet energetic and thoughtful deed for a lad of his years, he laid the foundation of a fortunate change in the circumstances of his family.  He perceived how miserably small were the gains of his parents from mere outdoor labour; and, with two pounds which he had carefully saved up, he induced his mother to commence a little shop in her cottage at Tulliebeltane, and to become a regular attendant at the weekly market of Perth, where she could dispose of those rural commodities which she might purchase or procure in exchange for her groceries and other small wares.  This proved a great resource in enabling this excellent person to bring up and educate her younger children; all of whom have received a better, or a more systematic education than did ROBERT, and this without abating in the least their early habits of industry.  ROBERT'S education, it will be seen, might, from an early period, very safely have been left to himself.

    NICOLL'S letters from Perth to his brother William afford a few passing glimpses of his probationary years, and of his habits of thought, and his aspirations, while bright visions were rising before his youthful fancy, from out the clearing mists of futurity.  When he had been about a year at his apprenticeship, he thus gives William sage counsel as to the best method of pursuing his studies, and reports upon his own progress:—

"I received your learned and —[a misspelt French word] epistle; and I must confess I was agreeably surprised by its contents; inasmuch as you have this week discovered that nothing can be accomplished without labour.  For, in your former letter, you seemed to think you could work Bonnycastle as you would a cart-horse.  But why despair, my pretty fellow?  Commence with Practical Surveying, and read on to the end, and think attentively as you read, and I will bet you two to one, that in a month you will have it all in your head like a horn."

    After some good advice about systematizing his studies, the student is recommended not to exalt memory above the reasoning faculty; and thus exhorted:—

"But do you think and engrave the principle on the tables of your heart, from which nothing can ever again efface it!  That is the manner of proceeding I have taken, and I every day feel the good effects of it; and if life and strength be spared me, there is something that whispers that I may yet, at some future period, distinguish myself, either by prose or verse, in the republic of letters.

    "Perhaps you won't believe me, but I declare to you that I am grown very industrious.  After this fashion, I read a good deal in the morning while sluggards are snoring; all day I attend to my business; and in the fore-nights [the early part of the evening] I learn my grammar; while the morning of Sunday is spent in writing hymns, or other harmless poetical pieces.  Would you have thought it—I, even I, am reckoned in Perth, a very early riser.  Tell it not in the Coates—proclaim it not in the gates of Tulliebeltane!  I hope you will pardon the inaccuracies of this letter, as I have never given it a second reading.  By the by, I will send you one of my darling MS. poems one of these days.  Now don't laugh."

    The reader need not be reminded that these extracts are from the hasty and unrestrained communications of one country boy to another still younger than himself, and his brother. But as genuine bits of a young mind of no common order, they are precious.

    The Reform agitation—an era in the history of mind of Great Britain, the effects of which yet remain to be developed—was now at its height; and NICOLL, prepared by his previous studies and ruminations, though they had not been directly political, in May, 1832, writes to his brother, first speaking in the usual way of the difficulty of writing a letter when one has nothing to say, till he recollects, like a philosopher of eighteen, "that no one who looks upon his brethren of mankind, and the beauties of the earth, with an inquiring eye, can ever be at a loss for a subject,"—and launches forth:—

"To look upon mankind—to observe the various airs they give themselves, is indeed calculated to make a person a misanthrope.  The chief of an Indian tribe daily goes to his tent-door and points out to the sun the path he is to travel for the day; and the despots of Europe wish to point out to mankind the road till time shall be no longer.  The head prince of a village, or the lord of a few acres, equally with those, rule, in mind as well as in body, the crouching wretches who labour unseen; and all combine to keep themselves uppermost, at the expense of their fellow-creatures, unheeding though misery may follow their path—that is nothing compared to self-aggrandisement.  And those who submit to be thus tyrannized over, what are they? we are tempted to ask. Are they men who listen to every word as if it proceeded from God—who obey every motion as if it were one from the Deity?  They are not men—they are slaves, in every sense of the word; because they have made themselves so when God created them freemen."

    Having followed this theme at greater length, and concluded with a well-known quotation from Campbell—

"Fierce in his eye the fire of valour burns,
 And as the slave departs the man returns,"—

the young Radical philosopher turns to another and cognate topic.

"To see the power of riches—to see how their possessor is adored, is followed and caressed; to see him indulge in every vice, in every folly, and followed and caressed still; and to see the same man—still the same—stripped by fortune of the riches he bestowed upon his vices, where, then, are the crowds who follow in his train? where are those who followed him and applauded his very blasphemies.  Why, they are gone to follow others like in manners; and to laugh at him when, they have ruined for this world and the next.  To look on such a picture is enough to make men curse the name of men who turn GOD'S moral world into a wilderness, his image into a devil, and his word into a cloak for their practices!  But no, we will not curse; we look on men as brothers, and leave them to their God."

In the spring of 1832, and when ROBERT was consequently eighteen, he writes his brother thus:—

“In your last letter you seem to think that I have given up all thoughts of America; but I must tell you such is not the case.  My mother used to say I was very fickle; but if I were not still in the thoughts of going there, I would deserve the name of fickleness indeed."

    Having dwelt on the advantages of America over his own country, "Scotland," as he says, "though it be," for a man who has nothing to depend on but his industry and talents, he concludes—

    "If a person is clever and behaves himself, he is as sure of a competence as I am sure of being a poet; and that is sure enough, in all conscience! . . . . . You may laugh in your sleeve at my poetry; but 'wait a wee,' and mayhap you may laugh on the wrong side of your mouth, as Cobbett says of his political enemies.——Poetry is one of the greatest earthly blessings that God bestows upon man. Poets are generally poor men; but none of them would give up their fancy, imagination, or whatever it is that forms a poet, for all the riches of Golconda's mines.  You have heard of Coleridge. He is a scholar than whom there are few better; but, by devoting his time to the muses, he has never yet been, as I may say, independent.  Yet this unfortunate son of genius says—'Poetry has soothed my afflictions, heightened my joys, and thrown a broad and beautiful halo over the best and worst scenes of my life.'

    "But you must not suppose, for all that, that I will not work while I write; for, as Thomas Moore says in the midst of a sentimental love song, 'We must all dine,' so say I; and though Moore has often been laughed at for the ridiculous expression, I am almost tempted to think it the most sensible thing he has ever written.

    "I get on trippingly with my grammar; and always as I proceed I feel myself understanding it better; and I hope I may yet be a good grammarian. If once learned and practised, I will not be afraid, if health be spared me, to fight my way through the world. . . . . By the way, I think it would be the best policy for you to write a [little] better, and a little closer.[1] As to America, my plan is this:—I will try and get a good engagement for a year or two, and then, when I have got as much cash as will carry me, go to it; and when I can get myself comfortably settled, you and the rest may come out also without fear, as you would have a home awaiting you. But this is always supposing we get no encouragement at home.  Now for poetry."

A stanza on Sabbath Morning fills up the sheet; and, after it is folded, the blank corners are garnished with such scraps as the following:—

The tenant to his landlord hied,
    And told his tale of poverty:—
"I pardon you," the landlord cried,
    "Your clothes are rent enough, I see."

    Four years later—four years to NICOLL of intense mental activity—we find him writing from Dundee, to a young literary friend, and, after lamenting the venality of the newspaper press, saying,

    "I have lately been reading the Recollections of Coleridge.  What a mighty intellect was lost in that man for a want of a little energy—a little determination!  He was ruined, as thousands have been, by the accursed aristocracy.  I almost cried when I found him saying, that instead of completing, or rather beginning his projected great work, he was obliged to write twaddle for * *, and compose MS. sermons, to support his station in society!  Good God! that a man with an intellect so noble should have been a slave to conventionalities.  Had he dared to be poor—had he known that bread and cheese and water could nourish the body as well as the choicest viands—that coarse woollens could cover it as well as the finest silks—and had he dared to act on that knowledge, how little of his time would it have taken to have sufficed his wants, and how much leisure would he have had for giving shape and utterance to his immortal thoughts!  He could not say with Jean Paul, 'What matters, if God's heaven be within a man's head, whether its outside covering be a silken cowl or a greasy nightcap?'  And through fear of losing caste in the world—this speck and point of time merely—he consented to forego his 'station' in the world of mind.  O for an hour of John Milton, to teach such men to 'act and comprehend.'"

    This, to many, may sound like rhodomontade, and it certainly argues slender experience of real life. Undoubtedly, however, human happiness would be much the gainer, if the simplicity and self-denial insisted on, were more practised than it is; and this much may be said for the young enthusiast—he was living according to his own doctrines, and literally on bread and cheese and water, "that he might have leisure to give shape and utterance to ' his thoughts."

    It was NICOLL'S habit during the summer, to rise before five o'clock, and repair to the North Inch of Perth, where he wrote in the open air until seven o'clock, when it was time to attend to business.  Again, when at nine o'clock in the evening his daily labour was over, his studies were resumed, and were often carried far into the morning.  Such rigorous application in a growing lad, but recently transferred to a town from the brae-side—where he had lived all his days in the open air like a bird—and to constant confinement in a shop, could not be without ill effects on his health; though we have heard his mother impute the origin of the malady, which ultimately cut him off, to some internal injury, or strain of the chest, which he received from thoughtlessly lifting a too heavy load.

   About this time, NICOLL became a member of a debating society of young men, the object of which appears to have been partly political and partly literary.  Of this society his brother says,

"ROBERT'S manner, that of a raw country boy, was against him; but his indomitable energy and perseverance soon overcame every difficulty, and in a very short space of time he was able to speak with great fluency.  The habit of extemporary speaking which he acquired in the Young Men's Debating Society of Perth, gave him that confidence in himself which enabled hint, in a year or two afterwards [in Dundee], successfully to address larger assemblies of more critical listeners.  To improve himself in composition, besides his ordinary exercises, he was in the habit of writing short stories, of which he had always a few lying by him.  One of them, 'Il Zingaro,' he sent to Johnstone's Magazine."

    But the history of that most momentous event in the life of a young author—the first-published article, may come with far more grace from his own pen than from that of any other individual. In what a happy flutter of spirits must the subjoined letter have been written.

    "DEAR WILLIAM,—I have great news to tell you!  About the beginning of last month I wrote a tale for one of my exercises in composition, and as I had bestowed some pains upon it, I was loath to lose it.  Accordingly, I sent it, addressed to Mr. Johnstone, for insertion in Johnstone's Magazine; and, to my surprise, it has been inserted in last number.  You will find it in page 106.  It is a Radical story; for I wish to tell truth in the guise of fiction. . . . .I have told no person of it but Mr. — —, and, on Wednesday, my aunties M— — and C— —, who observed—'Dinna be an author; they are aye puir.'  In this world's goods they may be, but they have better riches than these.  At least, my works will not hinder my riches; for I sit down to write when others go to sleep, or to amuse themselves; and I find myself fitter to do my work after half a night's writing than others after half a night's idiotical amusement, or worse, debauchery.  You must forgive my bad writing, for the sake of a bad pen."

    This must have been great news for all in Tulliebeltane.  But we do not learn with what mixture of fear and hope, of pride and distrust, it was received in his mother's cottage, notwithstanding the prophetic warning of his prudent aunts.  One year, nay, half a year later, ROBERT would probably have chosen more congenial confidants.

    The Radical story, which found such honourable and unlooked for acceptance, occupies about one page and a half of the Magazine.  It is not only characteristic of NICOLL'S mind at that fervent period, but at all after times.  It is the tale of a gipsy youth, of fine and aspiring genius, who, smitten with love for a beautiful girl, becomes a water-carrier in an Italian city, and who, by resolutely enduring every kind of privation, and exerting wonderful energy, is enabled to become the pupil of an eminent painter, and finally acquires great eminence in his art, and obtains the hand of the object of his love and his exertions.

    The tale has some foundation either in fact or in popular tradition.  It commences in the vein of much of NICOLL'S future writings.

    "From among the PEOPLE the greatest men of every age have arisen.  Those rich in worldly goods rarely find time for aught but luxurious enjoyments; while, among the poor, there are always a few who sanctify the hours saved from toil by striving to attain intellectual excellence.  From among those few sometimes arise master-spirits, who give a tone, not only to the age in which they live, and to their own land, but to future generations, and to the whole world.  The peculiar greatness of mental power is, that it does not blaze up in a corner, and then become extinct, but enlightens and delights all nations. . . .Who can estimate the influence which the life and writings of Robert Burns have exerted on our national character?  Who can estimate the good effects which the writings of Sir Walter Scott—so filled with human sympathies and wise examples—may yet exert on the destinies of mankind?  We know no more heart-elating enjoyment than to peruse Benjamin Franklin's narrative of his own life: in which he tells of his rise from a runaway printer's boy to be the first philosopher of the day; and one of the founders of an empire the freest and happiest the world ever saw.  Is the influence of all the kings that ever reigned to be for a moment compared with the silent mental power possessed by Franklin? . . . .But in our day it is comparatively an easy matter for the so-called lower classes to educate themselves.  The gates of knowledge—of mental power—stand ever open."

    Such is the preamble to "Il Zingaro," and the first indication of the future Radical poet and newspaper editor.  NICOLL was now nineteen; and his letters and manuscript compositions show, that in the previous year he had made rapid advancement, both in the power of thinking, and in the art of expressing his thoughts, and even in the lesser matters of orthography and grammatical accuracy.

    Either from the effect of the internal crush which he had received, or from over-application, perhaps from both causes, ROBERT'S health became so much deranged towards the close of his apprenticeship, that it was abruptly terminated by his kind and indulgent mistress sending him home to be nursed by his mother.  At leisure, breathing his native air, and wandering among the "Ordè Braes," he recovered rapidly; and in the month of September, of the same year, he, for the first time, visited Edinburgh, in quest of employment.  This visit was made at a rather memorable period—the time of the "Grey Dinner."  After giving the history of his private adventure in a letter to his father and mother, he thus continues the narrative of his visit:—

    "Edinburgh was a sight worth seeing on Monday last.  The streets, from Newington, along the South and North Bridges, and Princes Street, were crowded, or rather wedged.  The whole side of the Calton Hill was paved with people.  There must have been 40,000 on the line of Earl Grey's march. I saw him at the Waterloo Hotel.  He is a fresh-looking, bald-headed man, with a most determined curled lip.  He is not old-looking.  I thought the crowd would have shaken his hand off. He is a most beautiful speaker.  Lord Brougham I saw at the college, and he looks far younger than I thought him. . . . .Lord Durham is a handsome man—dark-coloured, and clever-looking. . . . .

    "I paid sixpence to see the place that they had the dinner in the Grey Pavilion; and truly it was more like one of the enchanted halls in the Arabian Nights than anything else.

    "If I get a situation, I shall write you; but if not, I shall be home on Saturday.  Had I been a cloth-merchant, I might have got a dozen of situations.

    "I have visited Mr. Johnstone, who has been remarkably kind.  I was at my tea with him on Saturday. I saw his steam-press going, printing Tait's Magazine.  It is a strange machine.  A sheet of paper, of the proper size, is put in, and comes out at the other end, and printed on both sides."

    Two years afterwards, and NICOLL was himself keeping one of those "strange machines" in full play, and stirring thousands with its productions.

    At this time he was, on his own earnest request, introduced to Mr. Robert Chambers and Mr. George Gilfillan; for everyone who wrote, and, above all, who wrote verses, was then a Magnate in his eyes.  By every one that he met he appears to have felt himself treated with kindness and liberality.

    He returned home—it will scarcely be too much to say—not greatly disappointed in not finding employment.  His heart was already placed on a vocation very different from that to which he had been bred; or he might speedily have found what he did not in fact very anxiously seek.  The pursuits of literature—to be connected in some way with books and the press, were it but to breathe in the atmosphere of knowledge, was his secret and ardent desire.  His friends in Edinburgh were, on the other hand, more desirous to repress than to foster his literary ardour; and anxious that he should stick to his trade, and, without abandoning either politics or the Muses, keep them for the present in the background.  But this was not to be.  His future vocation was speedily determined; and all was for the best.

    He had, in fact, been offered a situation of the kind to which he had been bred, when, with very slender means—the help of his mother, and some friendly aid and encouragement from friends in Perth—he was induced to open a Circulating Library in Dundee.  A shop was taken in that town, and on this new plan of life NICOLL entered with all the ardour and energy belonging to his character.  By means of his Library, he soon acquired an extensive acquaintance among the young mechanics and manufacturers of the place; and this year, 1835, became an important epoch in. his life.  He wrote largely and frequently for the liberal newspapers of the town; he delivered political lectures; he made speeches; augmented his stores of knowledge by reading; he wrote poems; and, finally, he prepared and published his volume of Poems and Lyrics.  NICOLL was of the order of young men of genius who more require the rein than the spur; and his sage Edinburgh friends certainly gave no more encouragement to his appearance as an author—which was deemed premature, and consequently injurious to what they imagined his real powers, when time had been allowed for their fair development—than they had done to his change of profession.  But a good many persons in his own rank of life, chiefly clever young working men, had subscribed for the projected work.  It was forthwith put to press in one of the newspaper offices of Dundee; and when ROBERT, on coming to Edinburgh to find a publisher, got a note of introduction from a friend to Mr. Tait, and found that gentleman (although booksellers are not generally, in these times, fond of poetical literature) willing to be his publisher, he returned home in high spirits.  His volume shortly afterwards appeared, and was received with great kindness by his friends, and with that warm approbation by the press which the author modestly considered far above its merits.

    We have the authority of his brother for saying, that "while ROBERT acknowledged that his poems were the means of placing him in a situation to attempt something better, he regretted that he had published so soon."  And, in point of fact, though he wrote verses while he was able to hold a pencil, he published no more, with the exception of one or two pieces at most, which, while he was Editor of the Leeds Times, appeared in Tait's Magazine, through the intervention of the friend to whom they were sent.

    When ROBERT had been some time in Dundee, his original want of anything deserving to be called capital, and his literary studies and engagements (which, if quite unproductive, yet occupied considerable time), induced him to receive, as a partner, a young tradesman who had a little money; while he himself attempted a small periodical work, which did not succeed.  The library business, hardly able to support one, could ill support two; and, at Whitsunday, 1836, NICOLL made it entirely over to his partner, retiring from the concern without any gain, and without any obligation; he had, indeed, lost by it.  This concern must have occasioned great anxiety to his mother, who had, however, made those efforts which only a mother can make to assist and support him in it.

    In entering upon the concern, he had come under, and also involved his mother in, pecuniary engagements, trifling in amount indeed, but which were to him and her as harassing and depressing as hundreds or thousands might have been in different circumstances.  He had also, shortly after coming to Dundee, formed an ardent attachment to a very pretty and amiable girl, who eventually became his wife.  He had thus every motive for endeavouring to establish himself as soon as possible in some suitable and permanent occupation.  This young person, NICOLL'S first and only love, was Miss Alice Suter, the only child of a widow, and the niece of the editor of one of the newspapers to which NICOLL contributed.  She naturally shared his anxiety about their future prospects, and stimulated him to look for employment elsewhere.  But the strong-hearted mother was still, as ever, his support in trial, and the confidant of all his hopes and fears.

    When he had almost made up his mind to make over the business to his partner, and quit Dundee for Edinburgh or London, in the hope of finding employment connected with the newspaper press, we find him writing to his mother; and the fact of such a letter as we have to cite, being written by a young man in the circumstances of NICOLL, is not half so remarkable, as that it was addressed to a woman in the condition of his mother, with the undoubting confidence that she fully comprehended and sympathized in every sentiment of his heart, and in every aspiration of his mind.  It is just as beautifully said by Mr. Laing in his late work:—

    "We often hear, What country but Scotland ever produced a Burns among her peasantry?  But the next question for the social economist is, What country but Scotland ever produced a peasantry for whom a Burns could write?  Burns had a public of his own in his own station in life, who could feel and appreciate his poetry long before he was known to the upper class of Scotch people; and, in fact, he never was known or appreciated by the upper class. . . . It is a peculiar feature in the social condition of our lowest labouring class in Scotland, that none, perhaps, in Europe, have so few physical, and so many intellectual wants and gratifications.  Luxury, or even comfort in diet or lodging, is unknown.  Oatmeal, milk, potatoes, kail, herrings, and rarely salt meat, are the chief food; a wretched dark, damp, mud-floored hovel the usual kind of dwelling; yet, with these wants and discomforts in their physical condition, which is far below that of the same class abroad, we never miss a book, perhaps a periodical, a sitting in the Kirk, a good suit of clothes for Sunday wear. . . . .The labouring man's subscriptions in Scotland to his book-club, his newspaper turn, his Bible Society, his Missionary Society, his kirk, or minister if he be a Seceder, and his neighbourly aid of the distressed, are expenditure upon intellectual and moral gratifications of a higher cast than the music-scrapings, singing, dancing, play-going, and novel-reading, of a much higher class of persons in Germany."

    The above passage affords the key to a Scotch matron, living under the exact circumstances described by Mr. Laing, fully appreciating a letter like the following, addressed to her by her son:—

"DUNDEE, February 6, 1836.

EAR MOTHER,—I have just received the box with the articles, and your letter.  I entirely forgot to send you a book; but you may be sure of one next time.  I send this letter by D. C——, and would have sent a book likewise, but do not like to trouble him.  Enclosed you will find a number of letters, which I thought you would like to see.  Be sure to keep them clean, and return them soon.  I shall write you again before going to Edinburgh; and you may depend I shall not give up my shop till I have something certain to compensate for it.

    "That money of R.'s [2] hangs like a milestone about my neck.  If I had it paid I would never borrow again from mortal man.  But do not mistake, me, mother; I am not one of those men who faint and falter in the great battle of life.  God has given me too strong a heart for that. I look upon earth as a place where every man is set to struggle, and to work, that he may be humble and pure-hearted, and fit for that better land for which earth is a preparation—to which earth is the gate. Cowardly is that man who bows before the storm of life—who runs not the needful race manfully, and with a cheerful heart.  If men would but consider how little of real evil there is in all the ills of which they are so much afraid—poverty included—there would be more virtue and happiness, and less world and mammon-worship on earth than is.  I think, mother, that to me has been given talent; and if so, that talent was given to make it useful to man.  To man it cannot be made a source of happiness unless it be cultivated; and cultivated it cannot be unless I think little of [here some words are obliterated], and much and well of purifying and enlightening the soul.  This is my philosophy; and its motto is—

DESPAIR, thy name is written on
The roll of common men.

Half the unhappiness of this life springs from looking back to griefs which are past, and forward with fear to the future.  That is not my way.  I am determined never to bend to the storm that is coming, and never to look back on it after it has passed.  Fear not for me, dear mother; for I feel myself daily growing firmer, and more hopeful in spirit.  The more I think and reflect and thinking, instead of reading, is now my occupation—I feel that, whether I be growing richer or not, I am growing a wiser man, which is far better.  Pain, poverty, and all the other wild beasts of life which so affright others, I am so bold as to think I could look in the face without shrinking, without losing respect for myself, faith in man's high destinies, and trust in God. There is a point which it costs much mental toil and struggling to gain, but which, when once gained, a man can look down from, as a traveller from a lofty mountain, on storms raging below, while he is walking in sunshine.  That I have yet gained this point in life I will not say, but I feel myself daily nearer it. I would write long, but have no more time, and must stop short in the middle of my letter.  We are in the shop much as usual.  Hoping my father will get better soon, I am, dear mother, your son,

    The only regular correspondent of NICOLL at this time, was the young friend to whom he addressed the remarks on the fate of Coleridge that have been cited above.  There were many points of resemblance in their position, and some in their character; and the friendship struck up with the unknown admirer of his poetry, who was himself a man of great and original powers of mind and fancy, overflowed in epistles which, in spite of the old high rate of postage, proceeded with this, a first literary correspondent, at the brisk pace which such a friendship inspires at twenty-one. NICOLL'S literary friends in Edinburgh rarely wrote to him, and never more than the needful, when they entertained the hope of forwarding his views, or of being of use to him in some way or other; but here were the warm sympathies of youth, and a cordial outpouring of soul on both sides.  The correspondence is highly characteristic of both the individuals, who continued cordial friends up to the death of NICOLL, though they never chanced once to meet.

    A few extracts from this correspondence will elucidate NICOLL'S state of mind at this, and indeed at every future period of his short life.  His philosophy, if we may so apply the term—his high feeling of his vocation—his "definite purpose" in all that he wrote, we conceive more remarkable, and far more rare than even his attainments as a Scotch poet.  We have seen that, from his boyish years, it had been his resolution

        To scorn delights,
And live laborious days;

and neither love, politics, nor the fascinations of society made him once waver in the resolve.  His correspondent had been desirous to know if the young poet, whose verses he admired, was correct in his habits, and steady in his character, before he gave him his full friendship; and he made inquiry of a common friend, who informed, NICOLL of the circumstance.  Now, with great gleefulness and cheerfulness of disposition, a keen perception of humour, and true relish of fun, there was in ROBERT not only the most perfect purity of mind and life, but, as has been said, a lack of frailties and eccentricities somewhat detrimental to the personal interest usually taken in the passionate sons of song, who are, perhaps, not the worse liked by their wiser, prosaic patrons and friends for being at least a little odd and wayward, if not irregular, in their manners and habits.

    The inquiry as to his morals, gave him opportunity to reply in this strain:—

    "You are right in thinking that I would honour you for being anxious to know whether I was 'steady' or not; and I am happier than I can well express to find, that in you I have not only met with a man of undoubted genius, but with a man who likewise knows what is due to that genius, who knows how to respect himself, and disdains to sully the light which GOD has kindled in his soul by the unholy and accursed fumes of vice and immorality.  I fervently hope that the time has for ever gone by when genius was considered an excuse for evil—when the man who could appreciate and express the beautiful and true, was supposed to be at liberty to scorn all truth, and all beauty, mental and moral. Our influence on mankind may be small, but it will ever be exerted to purify, and better, and enlighten. The time has come—the day of human improvement is growing to noon, and henceforth men, with free and disenthralled souls, will strive to make them, in very truth, 'a temple where a God might dwell.'  If the men of mind would but join to intellectual power more single-mindedness and purity of heart—if they would but strive to be morally as well as intellectually great, there would be fewer complaints against man's proneness to mammon-worship.  The only legitimate power in sublunary things, Mind, would, as it ought—aye, and as it will, if men be true to themselves—have its due influence and honour.  Literary men, too, now begin to see the power and glory of their own mission; and this is both an omen and an earnest of much good.  O for a man like blind old John Milton to lead the way in moral and intellectual improvement, to moral and intellectual light and glory! . . . . .

    "Of the butterflies who have degraded literature by their evil ways, until it has become something almost to be scorned at, and who have made one branch of it—namely, poetry—to be regarded not in the light of a God-given gift for blessing and hallowing earth, and man, and nature, but as something for the amusement of fools, and the eulogy of knaves—of those creatures who lie below contempt, were their doings not so mischievous, you need entertain no fear.". . . .

    In tenderly ministering to, or endeavouring to brace, while he soothed the morbid mind of this friend, for whom he had the warmest regard—and who merited his regard, in spite of his capricious fits, whether of real or of merely pen-and-ink despondency—NICOLL sometimes recurred to his own early and real difficulties, and to his continued manful struggle with poverty; if the man may properly be called poor, whose clear income was probably not six shillings a week, but who could live upon less.  He owned that he also had at times felt crushed in hope and spirit; but now, he says,—

    "Time has made my heart firmer, adversity has knit me to endurance, and prepared me to meet all fortunes, if not smilingly, at least carelessly.  You cannot feel thus; but I do. What makes the difference?  I will tell you, Charles.  I am a younger man than you, but my struggle began earlier.  From seven years of to this hour, I have been dependent only on my own head and hands for everything—for very bread.  Long years ago—aye, even in childhood—adversity made me think, and feel, and suffer; and, would pride allow me, I could tell the world many a deep, deep tragedy enacted in the heart of a poor, forgotten, uncared-for boy.  Have you ever known those

Tortures alone the poor can know,
The proud alone can feel?

I hope not; for callousness to the world and its ways is too dearly bought by such suffering.  I have known it—aye, to my heart's core; and while the breath of life is in my body, I can never forget.  But I thank God that though I felt and suffered, the scathing blast neither blunted my perceptions of natural and moral beauty, nor, by withering the affections of my heart, made me a selfish man.  Often when I look back, I wonder how I bore the burden—how I did not end the evil day at once and for ever.  Pride saved me then; and it encourages me now.  Is it to be borne, that while the selfish, mean-souled, grovelling multitude toil and win, the true soul and the brave heart shall faint and fail?  Never!  Though disdaining to use the arts and subterfuges by which others conquer, the time comes for work, and, if the man be ready, he takes his place where he ought.  Of myself, and the little I find time to do, truly I can say—

One boon from human being I ne'er had,
Save life, and the frail flesh-covering
        With which 'tis clad."

    This is the only occasion in which we find NICOLL indulging in this vein.  And here it might have been, in some degree, excited by sympathy with his gloomy friend.  His natural character was cheerful and hopeful.  When a herd-boy, or a little assistant worker in a neighbouring gentleman's garden, he had at times suffered, silently and bitterly, the proud man's scorn; and probably he felt as an indignity treatment of which a boy of less sensibility might have thought nothing.  In his beautiful poem "Youth's Dream"—he alludes to these early feelings.  We have heard a friend impute his Radicalism or hostility to the aristocracy, to remembrance of the harsh and ignominious treatment which he had received from his employers when a boy—a child rather—engaged in rustic labour.  Besides the pride and sensibility with which nature had largely endowed NICOLL, it is also to be kept in mind that he belonged to a family which, in the same neighbourhood where they dwelt in poverty, had seen better days.  His Radicalism, however, rested on a broader foundation, though the sense of social injustice may have been thus first awakened.  No man ever stood more proudly and firmly by his Order than ROBERT NICOLL.

    Upon another occasion, when his correspondent—who was very apt to despond, or with whom sentimental despondency was, perhaps, first an affectation, and then a habit, a not uncommon case among self-educated, clever men—had probably been complaining of his daily drudgery, one of the most decided marks of an ill-regulated mind, so long as men, however highly gifted while in this world,

"Maun do something for their bread;"—

ROBERT NICOLL, who never gave way to this querulous temper, who was, at all times, a hard, unflinching labourer, and who had, moreover, a high idea of his vocation, thus replied:—

    "What you say of newspaper writing is true—true as truth itself; but you forget one part.  It would, indeed, be hangman's work to write articles one day to be forgotten to-morrow, if this were all; but you forget the comfort—the repayment.  If one prejudice is overthrown—one error rendered untenable; if but one step in advance be the consequence of your articles and mine—the consequences of the labour of all true men—are we not deeply repaid?  Whenever I feel despondency creeping upon me—whenever the thought rises in my mind that I am wasting the 'two talents' on the passing instead of the durable, I think of the glorious mission which all have who struggle for truth and the right cause; and then I can say—'What am I that I should repine; am not I an instrument, however unworthy, in the great work of human redemption?'  Would to God, dear * * *, we had a Press totally free; for then men would dare to speak the truth, not only in politics, but in literature. . . . . . Is truth never to have fair play in the fields of literature, where all should be her own?"

    NICOLL'S fits of despondency, moods to which all men are liable, whether poetical or prosaic, dull or bright, were rare and short; and though subject to attacks of ill health, often proceeding from over-exertion and mental excitement, and long without encouraging or fixed prospects of any kind, he never really abated of heart or hope.

    When we have cited an introductory passage of NICOLL'S first letter to his young friend, we shall have done more to place the real man before the reader, by giving his own confession of his faith, than could be accomplished by long pages of description or panegyric.  He says:—

“Amid all this world's woe, and sorrow, and evil, great is my faith in human goodness and truth; and an entire love of humanity is my religion.  Whether I am worthy of becoming the object of such a friendship as I would wish to inspire, it becomes not me to say; but this much I may hazard, that in my short course through life—for as yet one-and-twenty is the sum of my years—I have never feared an enemy, nor failed a friend; and I live in the hope that I never shall.  For the rest, I have written my heart in my poems; and rude, unfinished, and hasty as they are, it can be read there.  Your sentiments on literature—the literature of the present day, are mine.  I have long felt the falsehood, or rather the want of truth, which pervades it; and save when, like Falstaff, seduced by 'evil company,' I have been a worshipper in Nature's Temple, and intend to be so. . . . .But I must tell you what sort of an animal bears the name of ROBERT NICOLL.  Don't be alarmed; I mean not to 'take my own life' just now.  I was born in a rural parish of the Scottish lowlands:"—And he here repeats the story of his father's bankruptcy, and the consequent hardships and destitution of the family, continuing—"I commenced 'hard work' at eight years of age; and from that day to this I have struggled onward through every phase of rural life, gathering knowledge as I best could.  Here I am, then, at twenty-one, drunk with the poetry of life—though my own lot has been something of the hardest; having poured from a full heart a few rough, rude lilts, and live in the hope of writing more and better.  A Radical in all things, I am entering into literary life, ready and willing to take what fortune may send,—

'For, Gude be thankit, I can plough.'

I do not rate my published volume too highly, for I know its defects; but I think that by keeping to Nature—to what Wordsworth has called the 'great sympathies'—I shall yet do better.  If I do not, it shall not be for the want of close, strict, untiring perseverance,—or single-minded devotion to literature."

    Having, in the spring of 1836, made up his mind to try his fortunes in London, ROBERT wrote to his friends in Edinburgh for such letters of introduction as they could, with propriety, give him.  This scheme appeared so hazardous and hopeless to those the most deeply interested in his well-being, those who had ever regretted his early abandonment of his own business, and exclusive devotion to literature, that Mr. Tait kindly offered him some temporary employment in his warehouse, until something better should occur.  But he tells it best himself to his constant correspondent:—

"EDINBURGH, PARKSIDE, June 11, 1836.
    "The last time I wrote, I expected to have by this time been with you at Nottingham.  But when I came to Edinburgh, on my way to Hull, I found Tait and all my other friends decidedly against my going to London without some certain employment before me.  At last, to keep me here, Tait offered me some employment in the meantime, until I can get an editorship of some newspaper, which, I have no doubt, will be shortly. . . . . The moment I get a newspaper, I mean to take a fortnight of leave of absence and bend my way to N——.  Perhaps staying here was the best way after all.  I have present employment at least; and my prospects of succeeding shortly are good; while London was all chance—sink or swim, succeed or fail.  I wish the world were at the devil altogether; 'tis nought but toil and trouble—all weariness to the flesh, and double weariness to the spirit.  Nevertheless, it would be cowardly not to fight our hour; and we must, therefore, do our best—till the tale be told—the song ended—the bond sealed—the game, which men call life, played: so be it."

    In the same letter occurs the following passage, drawn forth by his cordial correspondent having made him the confidant of an attachment which ended in matrimony, though some time later than NICOLL'S own marriage:—

"The sentence I liked best in your last letter was that which closed it; and I liked it, not because it contained your approbation of something of mine, but because it told me you had found a woman to love; and to be loved by.  You must be happy.  I ask not, I care not, if she be beautiful, accomplished, or wealthy—for this I care not; but I know that she must have a noble heart, or * * * had never loved her."

    He had not confided the secret of his own engagement to any one beyond his immediate family circle.

    During the few months of this season that NICOLL lived in Edinburgh, he became acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Howitt, who were that summer travelling in Scotland; and he spent a good deal of his leisure time at Laverock Bank, where his last days were too soon to be spent.  Many little anecdotes of him at this and other times dwell on the memory of his Edinburgh friends, though they may not have the same interest for the public.  To the most observant of these friends, to woman's eyes, his state of health, even at this period, appeared very far from being satisfactory, though he made no complaint whatever, and probably had no feeling or warning of approaching danger.

    His attachment in Dundee, and his extreme anxiety to relieve his mother from the small pecuniary involvements (great to her) which she had incurred in order to enable him to establish his library, rendered him exceedingly desirous to obtain the employment for which his friends conceived him, with all his early disadvantages, at least as well qualified as many who filled similar situations.  And those whose advice had kept him in Edinburgh were as happy as himself, when, by the kind intervention of Mr. Tait, he procured the situation of editor of the Leeds Times, with even the comparatively narrow salary of £100 a-year.  He made a short farewell visit to his mother, and to his betrothed in Dundee; and returning to Edinburgh, took leave of his friends there, and set out for Leeds in high spirits—Mr Tait taking due care of the respectability of his outer man, which ROBERT considered little more than do the lilies of the field.  His mind was instantly fired and absorbed by the duties of his new calling, and by the realization of some of his soaring hopes of "making the world better yet."  He had had considerable experience, while in Dundee, both in writing for newspapers, and in addressing Radical audiences; and he possessed the eminent qualification of understanding, and keenly sympathizing in all the feelings and objects of the masses.  What was called the "faltering policy" of the Whigs, had, about this time, gone far to alienate the Reformers of the working-class; and, accordingly, with the Whigs the young Radical editor kept no terms; nor could he, in the case of their organs—though his natural manners were mild and conciliatory—he made to comprehend the ordinary conventionalities of party warfare, or the courtesies of rival editorship.  He would stoop to nothing but the truth, and the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  His friends in Edinburgh, who, probably on very ample grounds, considered themselves sufficiently Liberal, and sufficiently staunch, were even somewhat scandalized by his unmeasured and unsparing attacks on the ministerial paper of Leeds, (The Leeds Mercury), and the politics of its respectable conductor.

    So perfectly was NICOLL adapted to the wants of the crisis, and with so much enthusiasm and energy did he devote himself to his harassing and multifarious duties, that in a few weeks after his arrival in Leeds, the circulation of The Leeds Times began to rise, and continued to increase with unprecedented rapidity.  He had gone to Leeds in August; and in October he wrote to his Laverock Bank friends that he had had a severe cold.  He was, in return advised to get lodgings out of the town if possible, and to be careful against exposure to cold.  His habitual temperance, or rather abstemiousness, was favourable to his health at this time; although, on the other hand, he must have lived in an almost constant fever of mental excitement from one cause or another, from the period that he went to Leeds, until the hour that he left it.  The success of the newspaper gave him very great pleasure, for his heart was in every word that he said in it; and he had himself the fullest faith in the truths and opinions that he was diffusing.

    After he had been for some time in Leeds, we find him writing in high spirits to his brother William, who had, before this period, been apprenticed to a cloth-merchant in Perth:—

    "You will see I am speaking boldly out, and the people here like it; and the proprietor of The Leeds Times is aware that it is to my exertions he owes the wonderful success of the paper.  We are near 3000, and increasing at the rate of 200 a-week. . . . .We are beating both Whigs and Tories in Yorkshire rarely. . . . .I am engaged on a long poem just now, which will be by far the best thing I have ever written.  It is founded on the story of Arnold of Bresica, which you will find in Gibbon about the year 1150.  Read it. You will see what a glorious subject it is.  Was not yon a glorious dinner at Halifax? It made the souls of the aristocracy quake. . . . .The Howitts, William and Mary, are living in London and . . . .was at their house with a great company of literary people, among whom the conversation fell on myself.  After praising my poetry as first-rate, what think you was the compliment Mary Howitt paid me?—why, that I had 'the finest eyes' (ye gods and little fishes!) she had ever seen!  Now, she has seen the eyes of Southey, Moore, Campbell, Wordsworth; in short, she has seen the eyes of all the prosers and poets of the age—and mine the finest! But as Solomon says—'all is vanity.' Cunning chap that Solomon. . . . .

"P.S.—I like Hobson very much.  He never sees the paper till it is printed. I mean to have a higher salary though.  The Perth Chronicle won't do unless they speak up.  What's the use of mumbling?"

    To his literary friend and correspondent, who had also about this time obtained the editorship of a newspaper, he writes towards the end of the year:—

    "I see you are beginning to tell me that I now see the truth of what you told me of the world's unworthiness; but stop a little.  I am not sad as yet, though a little tried in spirit at being as it were bound to the wheel, and hindered in a great degree from those pursuits which I love so well; and with which I had hoped to have entwined my name.  But I am hindered from feeling the soul of poetry amid woods and fields, I yet trust I am struggling for something worth prizing,—something of which I am not ashamed, and need not be.  If there be aught on earth worthy of aspiring to, it is the lot of him who is enabled to do something for his miserable and suffering fellow-men; and this you and I will try to do at least.  Let us not complain.

    "Your first number is excellent.  You are sure of success; but a word in your ear: give fewer extracts from the papers, and more news.  You will find this advice worth attending to. . . . . You will get The Times regularly.  It is succeeding gloriously.  The circulation is now at 3000 a-week, and it is still rising rapidly.  Don't I give them the pure doctrine?  The truth makes people stare, and buy likewise; so 'tis both pleasant and profitable.

    "How do you get on with Tait?  Did he not pay me a compliment last month, by dubbing me the Ultra-Radical, and writing up the Mongrel Tory-Whig Mercury,[3] as the Radical? However, it is all fair; but had The Times been in need of a puff, it would have been darned.

    "How is E * * *?  I trust well and happy.  And now for a secret.  I am going down to Dundee next week to be married!  Ye gods and little fishes!"

    Even those who condemned the rashness and violence of NICOLL'S opinions, and his indecorous attacks on the Whig party (for it was ever the special object of his hostility), must have given him full credit for sincerity.  And truly in the alleged peccant state of the public press, it is refreshing to peruse such an extract as the following, from the confidential correspondence of two very clever young provincial editors.  The case was this:—

    His friend had been engaged to conduct a Whig or Ministerial newspaper, started in an agricultural English county "to serve the interest."  The Radical editor was cautioned by his constituents not to be rash, and to "enlighten and elevate the population gradually;" in short, to serve the Whig party, and nothing more.  He rebelled against the proprietors at a very early period of his engagement, and threw up his situation, though with no brilliant prospect elsewhere—indeed, with no prospect whatever.  On this occasion, NICOLL, a warm sympathiser, writes him:—

    "You have done right.  Whatever maybe the consequences, yon ought not to have submitted for an hour.  There are always plenty of slavish souls in the world without breaking into the harness such a spirit as yours.  Had you asked me for my advice, I would have bidden you do as you have done.  The brutes among whom you were placed would soon have broken your spirit, or, by constant iteration, have swayed you from the right. Keep up your spirits.  You are higher at this moment in my estimation, in your own, and in that of every honest man, than ever you were before.  I trust it is not in the power of disappointment and vexation to bend such a soul as yours.  Tait's advice was just such as I would have expected from him—honest as honesty itself.  You must never again accept a paper but in a manufacturing town, where you can tell the truth without fear or favour; and that you will not be long in finding a paper suitable to you lam certain.  You are now known, and I defy the world to keep down one like you."

    After other ardent expressions of sympathy, and some matters of advice and detail, NICOLL sends this message to the young lady to whom his friend was engaged, and who might be presumed to be deeply disappointed at seeing her lover thrown out of employment, and their mutual hopes again deferred to an indefinite period,—

"Tell E * * * from me to estimate as she ought, the nobility and determination of the man who dared to act as you have done. . . . Prudent men will say that you are hasty.  But you have done right, whatever may be the consequences."

    For the encouragement of young editors to maintain their integrity, and persevere in the honest course, it should be told that the individual in question almost immediately obtained a better appointment.

    Towards the middle of December, 1836, NICOLL stole a few days from his incessant toils, and came down to Dundee to be married.  His father and mother met him there; and without loss of time, he returned to Leeds, with his bride.  Her mother, who thence-forward formed a member of his household, soon followed.  Their small establishment was placed upon the most prudent and economical foundation; and while any measure of health continued to be spared to him, his home was, in all respects, as happy as any one in which young and pure affection ever found a sanctuary.  His wife, younger than himself by a year or two, possessed considerable personal beauty, and sweet and gentle manners; but above all, unbounded admiration for the talents of her husband.  Her health was, like his own, delicate, and her original constitution apparently much more fragile.  Their elder and wiser friends might, for this and other prudential reasons, have fancied their union premature; but this, also, was probably the best.  In his brief career, poor NICOLL tasted largely of all the higher enjoyments of life,—

Of all the pleasures of the heart,
The lover and the friend.

    Though Mrs. NICOLL must in the first period of their married life, have appeared likely to precede him to the grave, she survived him for a considerable period, before falling a victim to the same fatal malady that carried him off.

    During the spring of 1837, NICOLL, in letters addressed to his young friend, frequently alludes to the happiness of his humble home.  Between it and his office duties, between politics and poetry, his time was divided and very fully occupied.  His habits and opportunities had never at any time led him into what is called society; and in a letter to Edinburgh, after he had been several months in Leeds, he mentioned that he had no acquaintances, and had never once dined out of his own lodgings.

    His professional duties were of themselves incessant and harassing.  The Leeds Times is a paper of a large size; and in reporting, condensing news, writing a great deal for every number of the print, and maintaining a wide correspondence with the working-men reformers in different parts of the country, he had no assistant.  Yet amidst these engagements, poetry was not wholly forgotten.  The numerous additions to the original edition of his Poems and Lyrics, since published, were mostly written in Leeds, in the autumn of 1836, and in the early part of 1837; and, as evidence of haste, they were all written in pencil.

    In the spring of 1837, to increase his salary, which was but slender remuneration for his labours, NICOLL was induced to write the leading article for a paper just then started in Sheffield.  This, taken altogether, was dreadful overtasking even for a man in full health.  The proprietors of that paper still owe NICOLL'S family the reward of labours, which, with his rapidly declining strength, must have been far too severe.  But his spirit was unfaltering; and his courage, his fortitude, and power of endurance, long held out against every difficulty.  All this while, his friends in Edinburgh and in Perthshire had no reason to be apprehensive on his account.  When he did write, which was seldom, it was in high spirits at the success of the paper under his management, and his own prospects.  He had lately been very happily and suitably married; and as a brief season of economy was sufficient to retrieve whatever might have been deemed imprudent in that step, ROBERT'S well-wishers, who knew nothing of his failing health, had for him everything to hope, and nothing to fear.

    The spring of 1837 proved cold and ungenial, and NICOLL felt its influence; but there were deeper causes at work than weather and season.  He had long carried in his breast the seeds of disease, which under other circumstances might have been overcome, or have been kept dormant, but which many causes now contributed to develope.

    The finishing blow to his health was given by the general election in the summer of the same year, when the town of Leeds was contested by Sir William Molesworth, in opposition to Sir John Beckett.  Into this contest NICOLL naturally threw himself with his whole heart and soul.  As an enthusiastic Radical, as the editor of a Liberal print, as a man now looked up to by a considerable portion of the ten-pound electors, and all the intelligent non-electors, he was trebly pledged to this cause; and those who have contemplated his character, even as it is faintly indicated in this sketch, may imagine the intensity and ardour with which, on this occasion, he exerted himself.  After a very severe struggle, the Liberal cause triumphed in Leeds; but the contest left poor NICOLL in such a state of exhaustion that his wife afterwards said—and we can well believe it—that if Sir William Molesworth had failed, ROBERT would have died on the instant. He was destined to linger on for a few more suffering months.

    By this time it was the month of August; and NICOLL'S illness had lasted so long, and the symptoms had become so urgent, that his wife and her mother felt it their duty to apprize his parents of the delicate state of his health.  They accordingly wrote to Tulliebeltane.  He had, however, been so averse to any communication being made that might alarm his mother, that she was warned not to tell whence the painful information had reached her; but to say, if he put any question, that a friend, who had seen him in Leeds, had informed her of his illness.  This will explain the commencement of the following letter, which is in reply to his mother's letter of anxious inquiry.  It is, besides, the last letter he ever wrote to her:—

"LEEDS, Wednesday, Sept., 13, 1837.

Y OWN DEAR MOTHER,—This morning I received your letter.  The ‘kind’ friend who was so particularly kind as to alarm you all out of your senses, need not come to my house again.  Before, I did not write you all about my illness, because I did not wish to make you uneasy; but it shall be no longer so.  I will tell you how it began—when it began—its progress—its present state."

    Having described his case at length, and given the opinions of the medical men, and those of his wife and his mother-in-law, in the manner most likely to soothe the fears of his mother, he, at the same time, owns that he is very weak—that the quantity of medicine he was taking deprived him of appetite; and that he had made up his mind to be an invalid through the winter, and meant, if possible, to obtain a respite of a few weeks from labour.  He then proceeds to another subject, probably in answer to some message from his venerable and pious grandfather:—

    "My love to aunt and grandfather; tell both that I do not know how I could better serve my God than by serving my fellowmen.  HE gave me a mission, and I trust I have done my best to fulfil it.  As for you, dear mother, dear father, I bid you be of good cheer; I shall recover yet, though it will take a while.  And if I do not, I trust I am prepared calmly to meet the worst.  My life has not yet been a long one, but I have borne much sickness—sickness such as opens the grave before men's eyes, and leads them to think of death; and I trust I have not borne this, and suffered, and thought, in vain.

    "I have told you the whole truth—every word of it; and you will see how exaggerated the account you have received must have been.  I am sorry for Willie's illness.  My love to him—to my own dear father—to Joe, Charlotte, and Charlie. . . . . We have had much rain here.  I hope the harvest is progressing fast.  I was dreaming last night about grandfather.  I thought he and I were making hay on the green.  My love to grandfather—tell him not to be alarmed.  Write soon, and tell Willie to write.  How we long for letters from 'home.' “

    About the time that this letter was written, a Delegate from the Working-Men's Association of London visited Leeds, on some political mission, and saw the now-famed Editor of The Leeds Times, whom he found apparently in the last stage of a decline.  On his return to London, this Delegate apprized ROBERT'S correspondent, so often alluded to; and that kind friend, besides writing immediately, entreating NICOLL to give himself a season of repose, and to come up to him with his wife, also wrote to Mr. Tait, to inform him of the full extent of NICOLL'S danger.  This roundabout intelligence, which was the first intimation of his serious illness they had received, greatly alarmed his Edinburgh friends; and the step was instantly taken, to which he so affectionately, and with an excess of grateful feeling, refers in the subjoined letter to his brother William.  For some time previous to this he had been unable to drag himself even to the printing-office; and his various weary and heavy tasks had been gone through at his own dwelling.  From anything that appears, the proprietors of the newspaper knew much less about him than strangers at a distance.  One generous friend [4] whom he had found in Leeds, had, at this time, a lodging in Knaresborough; and he induced ROBERT and Mrs. Nicoll to go to that place for a fortnight, for relaxation and change of air.  When there, he rode about on a donkey, seeming to enjoy at least the comparative ease and leisure of his position; and his young and anxious wife even flattered herself that he was getting better.  His own letters, his own feelings, were a surer index to the truth.

KNARESBOROUGH, October 10, 1837.

Y OWN DEAR KIND BROTHER,—Both your letters have been received, and I would have answered them long ago, had I been able.  I came to this place, which is near Harrowgate, and eighteen miles from Leeds, about a fortnight ago; but I feel very little better for the change.  My bowels are better; but I am miserably weak, and can eat little.  My arm is as thin as that of a child a month old.  Yet it is strange that, with all this illness and weakness, I feel as it were no pain.  My breast, cough, and all have not been so well for years.  I feel no sickness, but as sound and wholesome as ever I did.  The length of time I have been ill and my weakness alone frighten me; but whether I am to die or live, is in a wiser hand.  I have been so long ill I grow peevish and discontented sometimes; but on the whole I keep up my spirits wonderfully.  Alice bears up, and hopes for the best, as she ought to do.  O, Willie? I wish I had you here for one day—so much, much I have to say about them all, in case it should end for the worst.  It may not—but we should be prepared.  I go home to Leeds again on Friday.

    "Thank you for your kind dear letter; it brought sunshine to my sick weariness.  I cried over it like a child. . . . . Sickness has its pains, but it has likewise its pleasures.  From * * * and others, I have received such kind, kind letters; and the London Working Men's Association, to whom I am known but by my efforts in the cause, have written me a letter of condolence, filled with the kindest hopes and wishes.

    "I have just received another letter from Tait, which made me weep with joy, and which will have the same effect upon you.  He bids me send to him for money, if I need it; and urges me to leave Leeds and the paper instantly, and come to Edinburgh, where there is a house ready for me; and there to live, and attend to nothing but my health, till I get better.  He urges me to this with a father's kindness, and bids me feel neither care nor anxiety on any account. . . . . .And so delicately, too, he offers and urges all this.  How can I ever repay this man and the Johnstones for such kindness.—Should I do this?  I known not . . . .You admire my articles: they are written almost in torment.

    "You will go to Tulliebeltane on Sunday, and read this letter to them.  Tell them all this.  I wish my mother to come here immediately to consult with her.  I wish to see her.  I think a sight of her would cure me.  I am sure a breath of Scottish air would.  Whenever I get well I could get a dozen editorships in a week, for I have now a name and a reputation.

    "My mother must come immediately.  Yet I feel regret at leaving the paper, even for a season.  Think on all that you, and I, and millions more have suffered by the system I live to war against; and then you will join with me in thinking every hour misspent which is not devoted to the good work.

    "Dear, dear Willie, give my love to them all—to my parents—to Joe—to Maggie—to Charlie—to aunt—to grandfather.  Write, to say when my mother comes.  Write often, often, and never mind postage.  I have filled my paper, and have not said half of what I wished. . . . .I can do nothing till I see my mother.  I cannot find words to say how I feel Tait's kindness.  Write soon.  I have much more to say, but I am tired writing.  This is the most beautiful country you ever saw; but I have no heart to enjoy it.—God bless you,


    The only hope which NICOLL'S friends in Edinburgh could now entertain was placed in at once withdrawing him from his professional duties, and their attendant mental harassments, and in obtaining the best medical advice.

    Though NICOLL left Leeds without leaving one penny of debt there, it could not be supposed that, when he had been little more than one year in his situation, and that the year of his marriage, he could have saved anything.  His little debt to his mother, or rather her obligations for him, still hung most painfully upon his mind.  He had fondly hoped, instead of burthening, to be able to aid her and the family; and, in the meanwhile, he had involved her.  The first look of his generous and devoted mother, who at once went up to Leeds, [5] must have banished these distressing feelings.  There was nothing to be thought of save restoring him to health, if that were still possible; and, in every event, of ministering to his comfort and solace.

    NICOLL now became impatient to reach Scotland; and he took leave of his friends, the Reformers of the West-Riding, in a short address, which the deep sincerity of his heart, and the solemn circumstances under which it was written, rendered doubly emphatic.  It may be given as a specimen of his prose style:


    "BRETHREN!—Ill health compels me to leave your locality, where I have laboured earnestly and sincerely, and I trust not altogether without effect, in the holy work of human regeneration.  I go to try the effect of my native air, as a last change for life; and, after the last number, I am not responsible for anything which may appear in The Leeds Times, having ceased to be Editor of that paper from that date.

    "I could not leave you without saying this much, without bidding you, one and all, farewell, at least for a season.   If I am spared, you may yet hear of me as a Soldier on the People's side: if not, thank God! there are millions of honest and noble men ready to help in the great work.   Your cause emphatically is

The holiest cause that pen or sword
Of mortal ever lost or gained.

And that you may fight in that cause in an earnest, truthful, manly spirit, is the earnest prayer of one who never yet despaired of the ultimate triumph of truth.


    The fervent hope which the dying young poet thus expressed, is almost exalted to prophecy.

NICOLL left Leeds, accompanied by his wife, his mother, and his mother-in-law, to proceed by the steamer from Hull to Leith.  It is an interesting fact, that, on the morning when he was seated in the railway carriage, to proceed from Leeds to Selby, on his homeward journey, pale, worn, and exhausted, but with the remains of a handsome and prepossessing countenance, he was met for the first and last time by Ebenezer Elliott, who had warmly and generously appreciated his dawning genius, and foretold his future eminence.  Mr. Elliott was, at this time, coming to Leeds to deliver a Lecture on Poetry, at the request of some Young Men's Association of the place, and was quite unprepared to see the spectre of the young Scottish poet, who had returned his admiration with tenfold fervour.  The only poetry we have ever heard NICOLL recite and dwell upon, was Elliott's.  Mr. Elliott was naturally much more affected by this hasty passing interview, this exchange of looks between the Dead and the Living, than was poor NICOLL, already overcome with the pain and languor attending his removal.

    He arrived in Leith towards the end of October, and came at once to Mr. Johnstone's house at Laverock Bank, the family being then in Edinburgh.  He was immediately visited by Dr. Andrew Combe, in whose skill his friends placed the utmost reliance, and even considerable hope.  The Doctor kindly and generously continued his gratuitous visits from time to time; and his nephew, Dr. James Cox, became NICOLL'S regular medical attendant.  If attentive neighbours, skilful physicians, kind friends, and the most tender and devoted care of his own family, could have saved him, ROBERT NICOLL would have been restored.  Their affection, at least, smoothed his way to an early grave.

    For some weeks he seemed to rally; and the most threatening symptoms of his disease was temporarily checked.  If the winter could only be got through, it was now fondly hoped that he might still struggle on; and in this hope his mother returned to the home from which she could ill be spared, to her family and her little traffic; and his sister—"The only sister" of his poetry, and his brother William, shortly afterwards came to see him.

    There was one friend to whom it was imagined that he wished, at this time, to intrust his MS. poems, and the care of that reputation so dear even to the dying poet, but the subject was sedulously avoided in the dread of causing excitement; for, unlike the majority of cases of consumption, NICOLL'S case was attended by considerable nervous irritability.  In the meanwhile, Mr. Tait had informed Sir William Molesworth of the condition of the editor of The Leeds Times; of his destitution, and the very faint hope that was entertained of his recovery.  Sir William at once sent him an order for fifty pounds, accompanied by a letter remarkable for delicacy and kindness.

    NICOLL did not long outlive the receipt of this timely supply, which he received in the same spirit in which it was sent.  Early in December the worst symptoms of his disorder returned in an aggravated form; and his medical advisers, who had never been sanguine, gave up all hope.  His parents were immediately written to; for up to this time, his father, a hard-working man, well advanced in years, had not been able to visit him.  Instantly on receipt of the letter, and at nightfall on a December day, they left their cottage at Tulliebeltane, and, walking all night, reached Laverock Bank, a distance of fifty miles, on the afternoon of the following day, and but a few hours before their early-called and gifted son, in whom they must have placed so much of mingled pride and hope, breathed his last.  It is the poor only—it is those who are called upon to suffer and to sacrifice for each other, who have the high privilege of knowing to the full extent how Divine a thing is family affection.

    ROBERT NICOLL died in his twenty-fourth year, sincerely lamented by those who knew him best.  His remains were followed to the church-yard of North Leith by a numerous and respectable assemblage, consisting chiefly of gentlemen connected with the press in Edinburgh.  Those editors of liberal newspapers, in Scotland and England, to whom NICOLL'S character and talents were known, bore warm testimony to his abilities, and his labours in the cause of Reform.  Nor did memory lack the tribute, dear to the bard, of contemporary verse.

    In stature, NICOLL was above the middle height; though a slight stoop made him appear less tall than he really was.  His person, though, at the age of twenty-three, not robust, gave no indication of constitutional delicacy.  His features were all good; and the habitual expression of his countenance was pleasing; generally thoughtful, but readily kindling and brightening into the highest glee, accompanied by a merry laugh.  The eyes, to which he playfully alludes in one of the above letters, were of that intense, deep blue which, to a casual observer, often looks like black; and were quiet, animated, or glowing, according to the varying mood of the moment.  He had the warm-coloured, dark-brown hair, and sanguine complexion, which are found with such eyes.  His manners and habits were in nowise peculiar,—simple, quiet, unpretending, and manly.  He would probably have been called careless in his dress; though not so much as to excite notice.  He was liable to little fits of absence or embarrassment; but this was probably owing to his newness to society, for no one noted more keenly, or apprehended more quickly, whatever passed in any conversation that interested him—or, in other words, had his wits more acutely about him.  He was passionately fond of the simple music—the song and ballad music—which he understood, and had first heard around "Our Auld Hearthstane."  In this style he liked to hear his wife chant such ballads as the Flowers of the Forest; and, alone by his own fireside, to pour forth his over-brimming emotions in musical strains certainly more fervid and energetic than graceful or scientific.  There is an internal, a mute music, in which NICOLL, like Burns and Scott, and the other timber-toned or rough-voiced bards, must have had power; yet, NICOLL'S actual musical accomplishments did not rise greatly above those of the Ettrick Shepherd, whose very popular singing possessed in fire what it sadly wanted in grace.

    And now the last duty to ROBERT NICOLL is fulfilled to the best of the present means of those who hailed the bright promise of his youth, and who still cherish the memory of his worth and his talents, when we shall have mentioned to the few persons familiar with his original volume, that all the pieces which appeared for the first time in the second edition (fifty-two in number), were carefully printed from copies taken from his pencil-writing, and examined and compared with the originals by his brother, who copied them; and by Mr. Johnstone, who was quite familiar with his hand-writing.

    This imperfect sketch of NICOLL'S short life may be aptly concluded by the testimony borne to his genius by a kindred spirit—Ebenezer Elliott.  If different in degree, as one star differs from another in glory, they, as men and poets, belonged to the same system.  It was said of NICOLL by the Corn-Law Rhymer, that "Burns at his age had done nothing like him;" and though NICOLL might neither have had the transcendent genius of a Burns to animate, and undoubtedly not the fiery passions of Burns to struggle with and control, the simple fact as regards their respective written poetry, at the age of twenty-three, is undeniable.  Of NICOLL, his generous admirer of Sheffield further says—"Unstained and pure, at the age of twenty-three, died Scotland's second Burns; happy in this, that without having been a 'blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious," he chose, like Paul, the right path; and when the terrible angel said to his youth, 'Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world !'—he could and did answer, 'By the grace of God, I am, what I am.' . . . .

    ROBERT NICOLL is another victim added to the hundreds of thousands who 'are not dead, but gone before,' to bear true witness against the merciless."[6]



[1.] The reader need not be reminded that this is the free and confidential letter of one brother to another—of a clever and sanguine lad of eighteen, but lately from the country, to a boy two or three years Younger; who has, however, so well profited by the advice, that the handwriting of the man is excellent, and just as close as it should be.

[2.] This refers to a few pounds which had been lent him, when he opened his library at Dundee.

[3.] The Leeds Mercury.

[4.] This true friend, whose name, when this sketch was originally written, had escaped our memory, was Mr. Whitehead.

[5.] There is much false and injurious delicacy among all the ranks of British society, in speaking of pecuniary matters; yet it would almost be a sin against the finer humanities, if this absurd feeling were to lead to the suppression of an anecdote of NICOLL'S mother, which, besides being characteristic of the woman, illustrates the noble character of the cottage-matrons of Scotland.  The Nicolls, it need not be told, were a very poor family; the mother nobly struggling to educate her children; and, by this means, to raise their condition to the level from whence misfortune alone had driven them.  Mrs. Nicoll had, by this time, acquired some little property, solely by her own exertions and industry; but she had no money to spare to defray the necessary expenses of a journey to Leeds, where her son lay, as she must have feared, dying, and languishing to see her.  When a friend afterwards inquired how she had been able to defray this expense, as ROBERT was in no condition to assist her even to this extent, her blunt and noble reply was,—"Indeed, Mr.—, I shore for the siller."  Her wages as a reaper, her "harvest fee," was the only means by which she could honestly and independently fulfil her beloved son's dying wish, and accomplish the yearning desire of her own heart.  It would indeed be a sin against whatever gives Scotland her proudest distinction among the nations, to suppress this anecdote of ROBERT NICOLL and his Mother.  It reveals things to which wealth and grandeur may in reverence bow their heads.

[6.] Defence of Modern Poetry.


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