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[By this time my mother was grown up, and extremely pretty. All those who knew her speak of her rare and delicate beauty, both of face and figure. They called her the “Rose of Jedwood.” She kept her beauty to the last day of her life, and was a beautiful old woman, as she had been a lovely young one. She used to say, laughing, that “it was very hard no one ever thought of painting her portrait so long as she was young and pretty.” After she became celebrated, various likenesses were taken of her, by far the best of which are a beautiful bust, modelled at Rome in 1844 by Mr. Lawrence Macdonald, and a crayon drawing by Mr. James Swinton, done in London in 1848. My mother always looked considerably younger than her age; even at ninety, she looked younger than some who were her juniors by several years. This was owing, no doubt, principally to her being small and delicate in face and figure, but also, I think, to the extreme youthfulness and freshness of both her heart and mind, neither of which ever grew old. It certainly was not due to a youthful style of dress, for she had perfect taste in such matters, as well as in other things; and although no one spent less thought or money on it than she, my mother was at all times both neatly and becomingly dressed. She never was careless; and her room, her papers, and all that belonged to her were invariably in the most beautiful order. My mother’s recollections of this period of her life are as follows: ]

At that time Edinburgh was really the capital of Scotland; most of the Scotch families of distinction spent the winter there, and we had numerous acquaintances who invited me to whatever gaiety was going on. As my mother refused to go into society when my father was at sea, I had to find a chaperon; but I never was at a loss, for we were somehow related to the Erskine family, and the Countess of Buchan, an amiable old lady, was always ready to take charge of me.

It was under Lady Buchan’s care that I made my first appearance at a ball, and my first dancing partner was the late Earl of Minto, then Mr. Gilbert Elliot, with whom I was always on very friendly terms, as well as with his family. Many other ladies were willing to take charge of me, but a chaperon was only required for the theatre, and concerts, and for balls in the public assembly rooms; at private balls the lady of the house was thought sufficient. Still, although I was sure to know everybody in the room, or nearly so, I liked to have some one with whom to enter and to sit beside. Few ladies kept carriages, but went in sedan chairs, of which there were stands in the principal streets. Ladies were generally attended by a man-servant, but I went alone, as our household consisted of two maid-servants only. My mother knew, however, that the Highlanders who carried me could be trusted. I was fond of dancing, and never without partners, and often came home in bright daylight. The dances were reels, country dances, and sometimes Sir Roger de Coverley.

[At this period, although busily engaged in studying painting at Nasmyth’s academy, practising the piano five hours a day, and pursuing her more serious studies zealously, my mother went a good deal into society, for Edinburgh was a gay, sociable place, and many people who recollect her at that time, and some who were her dancing partners, have told me she was much admired, and a great favourite. They said she had a graceful figure, below the middle size, a small head, well set on her shoulders, a beautiful complexion, bright, intelligent eyes, and a profusion of soft brown hair. Besides the various occupations I have mentioned, she made all her own dresses, even for balls. These, however, unlike the elaborate productions of our day, were simply of fine India muslin, with a little Flanders lace. She says of her life in Edinburgh: ]

Girls had perfect liberty at that time in Edinburgh; we walked together in Princes Street, the fashionable promenade, and were joined by our dancing partners. We occasionally gave little supper parties, and presented these young men to our parents as they came in. At these meetings we played at games, danced reels, or had a little music never cards. After supper there were toasts, sentiments, and songs. There were always one or two hot dishes, and a variety of sweet things and fruit. Though I was much more at ease in society now, I was always terribly put out when asked for a toast or a sentiment. Like other girls, I did not dislike a little quiet flirtation; but I never could speak across a table, or take a leading part in conversation. This diffidence was probably owing to the secluded life I led in my early youth. At this time I gladly took part in any gaiety that was going on, and spent the day after a ball in idleness and gossiping with my friends; but these were rare occasions, for the balls were not numerous, and I never lost sight of the main object of my life, which was to prosecute my studies. So I painted at Nasmyth’s, played the usual number of hours on the piano, worked and conversed with my mother in the evening; and as we kept early hours, I rose at day-break, and after dressing, I wrapped myself in a blanket from my bed on account of the excessive cold having no fire at that hour and read algebra or the classics till breakfast time. I had, and still have, determined perseverance, but I soon found that it was in vain to occupy my mind beyond a certain time. I grew tired and did more harm than good; so, if I met with a difficult point, for example, in algebra, instead of poring over it till I was bewildered, I left it, took my work or some amusing book, and resumed it when my mind was fresh. Poetry was my great resource on these occasions, but at a later period I read novels, the “Old English Baron,” the “Mysteries of Udolpho,” the “Romance of the Forest,” &c. I was very fond of ghost and witch stories, both of which were believed in by most of the common people and many of the better educated. I heard an old naval officer say that he never opened his eyes after he was in bed. I asked him why? and he replied, “For fear I should see something!” Now I did not actually believe in either ghosts or witches, but yet, when alone in the dead of the night, I have been seized with a dread of, I know not what. Few people will now understand me if I say I was eerie, a Scotch expression for superstitious awe. I have been struck, on reading the life of the late Sir David Brewster, with the influence the superstitions of the age and country had on both learned and unlearned. Sir David was one of the greatest philosophers of the day. He was only a year younger than I; we were both born in Jedburgh, and both were influenced by the superstitions of our age and country in a similar manner, for he confessed that, although he did not believe in ghosts, he was eerie when sitting up to a late hour in a lone house that was haunted. This is a totally different thing from believing in spirit-rapping, which I scorn.

We returned as usual to Burntisland, in spring, and my father, who was at home, took my mother and me a tour in the Highlands. I was a great admirer of Ossian’s poems, and viewed the grand and beautiful scenery with awe; and my father, who was of a romantic disposition, smiled at my enthusiastic admiration of the eagles as they soared above the mountains. These noble birds are nearly extirpated; and, indeed, the feathered tribes, which were more varied and numerous in Britain than in any part of Europe, will soon disappear. They will certainly be avenged by the insects.

On coming home from the journey I was quite broken-hearted to find my beautiful goldfinch, which used to draw its water so prettily with an ivory cup and little chain, dead in its cage. The odious wretches of servants, to whose care I trusted it, let it die of hunger. My heart is deeply pained as I write this, seventy years afterwards.

In Fifeshire, as elsewhere, political opinions separated friends and disturbed the peace of families; discussions on political questions were violent and dangerous on account of the hard-drinking then so prevalent. At this time the oppression and cruelty committed in Great Britain were almost beyond endurance. Men and women were executed for what at the present day would only have been held to deserve a few weeks’ or months’ imprisonment. Every liberal opinion was crushed, men were entrapped into the army by promises which were never kept, and press-gangs tore merchant seamen from their families, and forced them to serve in the navy, where they were miserably provided for. The severity of discipline in both services amounted to torture. Such was the treatment of the brave men on whom the safety of the nation depended! They could bear it no longer; a mutiny broke out in the fleet which had been cruising off the Texel to watch the movements of a powerful Dutch squadron. The men rose against their officers, took the command, and ship after ship returned to England, leaving only a frigate and the “Venerable,” commanded by Admiral Duncan, with my father as his flag-captain. To deceive the Dutch, they continued to make signals, as if the rest of the fleet were in the offing, till they could return to England; when, without delay, Admiral Duncan and my father went alone on board each ship, ordered the men to arrest the ringleaders, which was done, and the fleet immediately returned to its station off the Texel. At last, on the morning of the 11th October, 1797, the Dutch fleet came out in great force, and formed in line of battle; that is, with their broadsides towards our ships. Then Admiral Duncan said to my father, “Fairfax, what shall we do?” “Break their line, sir, and draw up on the other side, where they will not be so well prepared.” “Do it, then, Fairfax.” So my father signalled accordingly. The circumstances of the battle, which was nobly fought on both sides, are historical. Nine ships of the line and two frigates were taken, and my father was sent home to announce the victory to the Admiralty. The rejoicing was excessive; every town and village was illuminated; and the Administration, relieved from the fear of a revolution, continued more confidently its oppressive measures.

When Admiral Duncan came to London, he was made a Baron, and afterwards Earl of Camperdown; and, by an unanimous vote of the House of Commons, he received a pension or a sum of money, I forget which; my father was knighted, and made Colonel of Marines. Earl Spencer was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, and Lady Spencer said to my father, “You ask for the promotion of your officers, but you never have asked a reward for yourself.” He replied, “I leave that to my country.” But his country did nothing for him; and at his death my mother had nothing to live upon but the usual pension of an Admiral’s widow, of seventy-five pounds a-year. Our friends, especially Robert Ferguson, junior, of Raith, made various attempts to obtain an addition to it; but it was too late: Camperdown was forgotten.

I remember one morning going to Lord Camperdown’s house in Edinburgh with my mother, to see a very large painting, representing the quarter-deck of the “Venerable,” Admiral Duncan, as large as life, standing upright, and the Dutch Admiral, De Winter, presenting his sword to my father. Another representation of the same scene may be seen among the numerous pictures of naval battles which decorate the walls of the great hall at Greenwich Hospital. Many years afterwards I was surprised to see an engraving of this very picture in the public library at Milan. I did not know that one existed.

At a great entertainment given to Lord Duncan by the East India Company, then in great power, the President asked my father, who sat at his left hand, if he had any relation in India? He replied, “My eldest son is in the Company’s military service.” “Then,” said the President, “he shall be a Writer, the highest appointment in my power to bestow.” I cannot tell how thankful we were; for, instead of a separation of almost a lifetime, it gave hopes that my brother might make a sufficient fortune in a few years to enable him to come home. There was a great review of the troops at Calcutta, under a burning sun; my brother returned to the barracks, sun-struck, where he found his appointment, and died that evening, at the age of twenty-one.

[My mother has often told us of her heart-broken parting with this brother on his going to India. It was then almost for a lifetime, and he was her favourite brother, and the companion of her childhood. He must have been wonderfully handsome, judging from a beautifully-painted miniature which we have of him.]

Public events became more and more exciting every day, and difficulties occurred at home. There had been bad harvests, and there was a great scarcity of bread; the people were much distressed, and the manufacturing towns in England were almost in a state of revolution; but the fear of invasion kept them quiet. I gloried in the brilliant success of our arms by land and by sea; and although I should have been glad if the people had resisted oppression at home, when we were threatened with invasion, I would have died to prevent a Frenchman from landing on our coast. No one can imagine the intense excitement which pervaded all ranks at that time. Every one was armed, and, notwithstanding the alarm, we could not but laugh at the awkward, and often ridiculous, figures of our old acquaintances, when at drill in uniform. At that time I went to visit my relations at Jedburgh. Soon after my arrival, we were awakened in the middle of the night by the Yeomanry entering the town at full gallop. The beacons were burning on the top of the Cheviots and other hills, as a signal that the French had landed. When day came, every preparation was made; but it was a false alarm.

The rapid succession of victories by sea and land was intensely exciting. We always illuminated our house, and went to the rocky bank in our southern garden to see the illumination of Edinburgh, Leith, and the shipping in the Roads, which was inexpressibly beautiful, though there was no gas in those times. It often happened that balls were given by the officers of the ships of war that came occasionally to Leith Roads, and I was always invited, but never allowed to go; for my mother thought it foolish to run the risk of crossing the Firth, a distance of seven miles, at a late hour, in a small open boat and returning in the morning, as the weather was always uncertain, and the sea often rough from tide and wind. On one occasion, my father was at home, and, though it was blowing hard, I thought he would not object to accepting the invitation; but he said, “Were it a matter of duty, you should go, even at the risk of your life, but for a ball, certainly not.”

We were as poor as ever, even more so; for my father was led into unavoidable expenses in London; so, after all the excitement, we returned to our more than usually economical life. No events worth mentioning happened for a long time. I continued my diversified pursuits as usual; had they been more concentrated, it would have been better; but there was no choice; for I had not the means of pursuing any one as far as I could wish, nor had I any friend to whom I could apply for direction or information. I was often deeply depressed at spending so much time to so little purpose.