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CHAPTER II.

AT SCHOOL AND COLLEGE.

1820-1829.

I MIGHT wish to retain for ever the mixed elements of youth and manhood that belong to middle age,—to the season between twenty and forty,—but I never could seriously desire to have been eternally a boy. A boy is a fruitful thing for a thoughtful spectator to contemplate, but a somewhat barren and a very imperfect thing to be. However, I was quite happy in my boyhood in the measure that happiness belongs to that age, and have not a single memorial sorrow to recall. At school I got my lessons carefully, kept at the top of my class, or quite close to it, and enjoyed peg-tops, marbles, “Robbers and Rangers,” and other sports in their season, with that healthy gusto that belongs to all normally constituted British boys. I got my lessons carefully, but I cannot say that this proceeded from any particular love either of books or lessons. I imagine it was merely from the natural energy of my character, with an ambitious impulse that did not like to be last, where there was a fair chance of being first. I was put into a little world—the schoolwhere action was the law, and it was contrary to my nature

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to be lazy or to be last. I was called upon to act for honour and glory with my equals, and I did my best with decision. That was the whole secret of my school activity.

So wrote the Professor when his hair was white, and, to some extent, his retrospective estimate of the ten years old schoolboy may have weight with us. But already featherywinged seeds of this and that great influence had floated within reach of his receptive nature, and had found lodgment there, to sink deep and to grow strong. Within the gable of a house just below the schoolroom in Netherkirkgate was a statue of William Wallace. John looked out on it daily—looked up to it as he came and went from school. The Scottish hero and his story grew into his heart, the biggest lesson he received at Merson's Academy. It was the nucleus from which radiated all his interest in Scotland and her history. Wallace led easily to Bruce ; and his knowledge of both was stimulated by his excursions with Mr Blackie, who took the boy with him on his holidays to fish near Kintore or at Pitmedden, in the Don, the Deveron, or the Urie. The memory of Bruce clung to castle and cottage in these districts, and Mr Blackie found eager

audience for his tales of the national champions. To be where Bruce had been, to look on Wallace day after day, brought both quite close

VOL. I.

B

to John's imagination, which, indeed, they filled for a time. Scotland began to be a holy land for him. Books which told of her trials and resistance grew valuable, and we find him, as the years passed, liking books better, and in his leisure hours poring over Walter Scott's matchless stories, many of which had come out, and over Robert Burns's glorious lyrics. The latter he first learned from his father. Mr Blackie's many gifts included a rich and musical voice; he sang the old Scottish ballads dear to our fathers, and every beautiful song by Robert Burns which had found a native setting. Scottish song and Scottish story took possession of the boy's heart before he left Merson's Academy

When this happened he was twelve years old. Mr Merson taught well, and John's equipment of Latin enabled him to win a small bursary on his entry at Marischal College, which he resigned in favour of a poorer student. But the

But the grammarschools and private academies of that time considered the elements of Greek as no part of their curriculum, and schoolboys crowded the classes of the University, whose professors were expected to do mere usher's work for some eighty or ninety students, whose age and acquirements made the title a mockery.

John was overpowered by the transition from

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out

a class of twelve to a class of ninety. It was easy to make head against the smaller number in the little Academy, where the capacity of each boy could be quickly gauged; but the resources of ninety were less obvious, and amongst them were many well-furnished scholars from the Burgh Grammar-School, famous for its teaching of Latin, and naturally better qualified to give its pupils the self-assertion needed for contest with numbers. For three years he went to the College, learning his lessons at home carefully, but withany

ambitious dream of excelling the rest of his class-mates.

Greek, indeed, was scarcely taught in a manner to excite ambition ; it was plodding work, and the boy plodded conscientiously and modestly. The Natural Philosophy class, taught attractively by Dr Knight, stimulated his interest and his

courage more effectively, and in the last year of his course he took the third prize for mechanics and mathematics. This was due to the teaching, not to any native inclination towards these studies; but he scarcely knew as yet what interested him most, and he was glad to learn what was best taught.

For in Aberdeen during the first quarter of this century the teaching was barren enough. Enthusiasm was banished from both chair and pulpit. The professors were learned but pompous ; The boy's

the preachers were Moderates, and turned out formal homilies, which passed over listless congregations like gusts of an arid wind over a withered plain — “ clats o' cauld parritch,” in homely contemporary phrase. Aberdeen was chilled to its centre by Moderatism ; it dulled every faculty except those in the service of a dignified self-interest, which the Moderates studiously proclaimed to be common-sense. three years' curriculum left not a memory behind except this of gaining a prize in mechanics and mathematics.

At home the mother's place was supplied by her sister Marion, and to her kindly care both Mr Blackie and the children owed much. Of the ten children only six had survived—Christina, John, Marion, James, Alexander, and Helen, the last a baby when Mrs Blackie died. Mr Blackie had hardly emerged from the shadow of his loss. He was more solitary than before, and spent his leisure in his study, where he read, and pored over drawers of plaster-of-Paris casts which came from abroad. He fitted up a tiny furnace in his room, and here he fused his metal and turned out clever replicas of his favourite medallions, which he presented to his friends. John's presence was always welcome to him, and the other children were glad when the favourite

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