The Prologue

" We three are young; we have a month to spare:
Money enough; and, whistling off our care,
We can forsake the turmoil of the town,
And tread the wilds — making our faces brown
With sunshine, on the peaks of some high Ben.
Let us away — three glad, unburden'd men —
And trace some mountain-torrent to its source,
Mid fern, and heather, juniper, and gorse,
Braving all weathers. I, with gun, one day
Will cater for you, and go forth to slay
The grouse in corries, where it loves to dwell;
Or sit with you, upon some granite-fell,
And talk for hours of high philosophy,
Or sun ourselves in warmth of poesy:
And should these tire, with rod in hand, we'll go
To streams that leap — too frolicsome to flow —
Angling for trout, and catch them by themselves,
In fancied citadel, beneath the shelves
Of slippery stone, o'er which the waters rush.
Let us away. My cheeks and forehead flush
At the mere thought; so glad would be my soul
To be alone with Nature for one whole
Untrammell'd month — having no thought of dross
Or dull entanglements of gain and loss;
Of Blackstone drear, or Barnewell's Reports,
Or aught that smells of lawyers and the courts.
Let us away, this pleasant summer time,
Thou, Karl, canst muse, and shape the tuneful rhyme
Amidst thy well-beloved hills and straths:
Thou, Patrick, canst ascend the mountain-paths,
They well-filled flask in pocket, and rehearse
Plain prose with me, as genial as his verse;
And wet or whet each argumental flaw
With running waters, dashed with usquebaugh."
Thus Alistor, a Templar keen and young,
Of a clear head, and of a fluent tongue; —
Subtle logician, but with earnest mind,
And heart brimful of hope for human kind,
Spake to his friends; and him, with voice of cheer,
Answer'd the rhymer: " Half one toilsome year
I've moiled in cities, and, like thee, I long
To see the placid lochs, the torrents strong.
The purple moors, the white rocks, crimson-crowned,
And amber waters, in their depths embrowned.
One month of freedom, from the drowsy thrall
Of custom, would be health, joy, wisdom, all,
To us who know each other, and delight
To be let loose into the infinite
Of our own fancies — free from task and rule,
And all the stiff conventions of the school
Of the great world. Our tyrant, lean-faced care,
Shall not pursue us to the mountain air,
If we play truant. Let us hence away,
And have one month of pleasure while we may."
Patrick, the rough in speech, the true in heart,
A sculptor, born to elevate his art,
And loving it with fervor, such as burned
In old Pygmalion's spirit, when he yearned
For the sweet image that his hands had made,
Shouted consent. " But whither bound?" he said,
" What far off mountain-summit shall we scale?
What salt-sea loch, winding through many a vale,
Shall we explore? Or shall we rather glide
Through lakes inland, unruffled by a tide? —
Not that it matters. Thou, friend poet, know'st
Better than we all grandeurs of the coast:
The lochs, the straths, the hoary-headed Bens,
The windy corries, and the wild, green glens,
And all the thunderous waterfalls that leap
Betwixt the Atlantic and the German deep;
And we will follow, if our guide thou'lt be,
By Lomond, Linnhe, Lochy, or Maree;
Through Rosshire moors, to Hebridean isle,
Or mid the lordly mountains of Argyll,
Where'er thou wilt." The poet made reply,
With a keen pleasure sparkling in his eye:
" There is a valley, beautifully lone,
Rude of access, to few but hunters known:
A glen so full of grey magnificence,
Of rock and mountain, that with love intense,
Salvator's self, if thither he had strayed,
Might, rapture-struck, a dwelling-place have made
Of some wild nook. There filled with ecstasies,
He might have sat, his spirit in his eyes,
And all his mind impregnate, till he wrought
On the dumb canvas an immortal thought.
But not all rude and gloomy is the vale;
Ye wild thyme odors, floating on the gale;
Ye tufts of heather, blooming on the slopes;
Ye birch-trees, waving from the rocky copes
Of many a hill, your boughs festooned in braids,
Or drooping, like the locks of love-lorn maids;
Ye dark green pines; ye larches, fan-like, spread;
And ye, witch-scaring rowans, gleaming red;
Ye flowers innumerous, earth-jewels fair,
That lift your eyelids to the morning air;
And all ye torrents, that with eloquent voice,
Call on the mountain-echoes to rejoice
And sing, amid the wilderness, a song
Of jubilant gladness, when your floods are strong; —
Attest the wild luxuriance of the scene
That lengthening spreads (with many a strath between,
And purple moorland, haunt of birds and bees)
Around the fern-clad feet and shaggy knees
Of mighty Nevis, monarch of the hills,
The paramount of mountains, gemmed with rills,
Scantily robed; his Titan-shoulders nude,
Lifting his head in royal solitude
Above his peers, and looking grimly down
Over all Britain from his misty crown."

Thus spake the rhymer; and between them three
Was made a binding compact, suddenly,
That they should waken with the morning sun,
And journey northwards. As was said, was done.
Borne on the wings of steam, ten leagues an hour,
They called it slow, but blessed its mighty power;
And thought awhile, in pensive wonder dumb,
Of greater triumphs in the days to come.
When Distance (dim tradition of the Past,
Worn-out idea, too absurd to last)
Should bar no more the enterprise of man,
Nor time compress his efforts to a span;
When docile lightnings, tethered to a wire,
Should turn to messengers at his desire,
And bearing thoughts from Europe to Cathay,
Start at the twilight and return ere day;
And of the social evils that should cease
In the new age of intercourse and peace;
When War, old tyrant, bloody-faced and pale,
Should yield his breath, run over on the rail; —
Crushed by the car of Steam, no more to rise,
To fill the world with tears and agonies.

Short was their stay, nor turned they ev'n aside
To view the mighty city of the Clyde,
The great metropolis of plodding folk,
Tall chimneys, cotton, enterprise, and smoke;
But bound for Crinan while the morn was new,
Bade to the lovely Firth a fond adieu.

Clear was the sky; the sea reflected back
The morning lustre, as they held their track
By Rothesay, through the Kyles; and evermore
Some varied beauty wooed them from the shore
To gaze upon it. Green hills speck'd with sheep,
Or jutting rocks that nodded o'er the deep;
And, here and there, some mighty boulder stone,
Rolled from a precipice to stand alone —
Memento of convulsions that had wrung
The hills to agony when earth was young.

High to the south, majestic Arran rear'd
Its jagged peaks, storm-battered, riv'n, and seared;
And blue Lochfine, enswathed by mountains dun,
Displayed her teeming bosom to the sun,
And raised her ripples to reflect the light,
While graceful sea-gulls plumed in snowy white,
Followed the creaming furrow of the prow
With easy pinion pleasurably slow,
Then on the waters floated like a fleet
Of tiny vessels, argosies complete,
Such as brave Gulliver, deep wading, drew
Victorious from the ports of Blefuscu.

And sweet to these rejoicing mariners
Were Crinan's banks, o'ergrown with sunny furze,
With berried brambles, spotted foxglove bells,
Like Mab's pagodas built on pigmy fells,
With hawthorn bushes, purple-crested heath,
And orchis and anemones beneath
In plenteous beauty. Disembarking here,
Fresh for the exercise, and full of cheer,
They walked rejoicing onward, staff in hand,
Across the isthmus, nine good miles of land,
And left the lingering track-boat in the locks,
While they went scrambling over briery rocks
For heather sprigs, to grace their caps of blue;
Then on again, rejoicing in the view
Of fertile valleys dotted black with kine,
And hills knee-deep in tamarisk and pine;
Discoursing as they went of mica schist,
The old red sandstone, and the great " Fire mist."
Of nebulae — exploded; and the birth,
Myriads of ages past, of a young earth; —
Still young and fresh, though venerably old;
And of the wondrous tale in " Cosmos" told,
Of heavenly architecture infinite,
Suns, systems, groups, revolving in the light
Of beauty eternal, and eternal law; —
Of infinite love, magnificence, and awe.

And thus the hours were rapidly consumed
In furnace of their thought, and toil entombed
In mental working; so that when the sea
Burst on their startled vision suddenly,
They doubted if their eyes beheld indeed
Loch Crinan, and those seas that, like a mead
Sprinkled with flow'rs, were studded o'er with isles;
But soon they knew them gleaming in the smiles
Of an unclouded sun; and once again
Stepping on ship-board, steamed along the main.

Most lovely! oh! most beautiful and grand
Were all the scenes of this romantic land!
Isle after isle, with grey empurpled rocks,
Breasted in steadfast majesty the shocks,
Stupendous, of the wild Atlantic wave;
Many a desolate sonorous cave
Re-echoed through its inmost vaults profound,
The mighty diapason and full sound
Of Corryvreckan — awful orator —
Preaching to lonely isles with eloquent roar;
Many a mountain reared its lordly crest,
Bronzed or empurpled by the radiant west;
Many a hill-girt loch indented far
The mainland; many a high and frowning scaur,
The haunt of sea-fowl, raised its barren form,
Furrowed with age, defiant of the storm;
And over all this hazy realm was spread
A halo of sad memories of the dead:
Of mournful love-tales; of old tragedies,
Filling the heart with pity, and the eyes
With tears, at bare remembrance; and old songs
Of love's endurance, love's despair, love's wrongs
And triumph o'er all obstacles at last;
And all the grief and passion of the past.
Invoking these to daylight from the womb
Of dim tradition, into fuller bloom
Of their fresh fancy, greater ravishment
Was it to them to ponder as they went,
Upon each legend in its own sad place,
To which it lent a beauty and a grace.

And when they reached the rock-bound shore of Mull,
A land of driving sleets and vapors dull,
But filled with mournful grandeur and austere
Magnificence, the Western wave shone clear
In the last beams of day. The dying light,
Ere it departed, swathed each mountain height
In robes of purple; and adown the west,
Where sea and sky seemed mingling — breast to breast —
Drew the dense banks of ponderous clouds, and spread
A mantle o'er them of a royal red,
Belted with purple — lined with amber — tinged
With fiery gold — and blushing-purple fringed.

And gorgeous was it o'er the Western Isles
To gaze upon the sunset mid those piles
Of mountainous clouds. They reared their sunny copes
Like heavenly alps, with cities on their slopes,
Built amid glaciers — bristling fierce with towers,
Turrets, and battlements of warlike powers —
Jagged with priestly pinnacles and spires —
And crowned with domes, that glittered in the fires
Of the slant sun, like smithied silver bright; —
The capitals of Cloudland. When the light
Grew paler, and the Eastern dark came down,
And o'er the mystery drew his mantle brown,
'Twas lovely still to watch the shore and sea
Robed in the garment of obscurity;
To see the head-lands looming through the mist,
As if dissevered from the earth, they wist
Not altogether of which element
They were a part, indissolubly blent.

The lights of Oban glimmer'd faint and far,
And over Cruachan shone out one star
Attendant on the moon: who, issuing forth
Yellow and full, displayed to all the north
Her matron face, and o'er each eastern hill
Poured sleepy lustre. Beautifully still
Lay Lochlin in her beams — Lochlin whose breast
Wafted so oft the chieftains of the west
To bloody warfare; Lochlin that of yore
The galleys of the Gael to battle bore
Against the men of haughty Innisfail;
Lochlin of storms, where Fingal spread his sail
To meet Cuchullin; Lochlin of the spears;
Blue Lochlin of the songs of other years.
A mournful sea it was, a mournful shore;
But yet so lovely, vestured in the hoar
Antiquity of many memories,
That they regretted when their watchful eyes
Described Fortwilliam and their journey's end,
And great Ben Nevis, corried, strath'd, and glenn'd,
Rising before them. Soon the sorrow pass'd, —
For they had reached a resting place at last,
Where for a season they might feed Delight
On Beauty, and in worldly Care's despite
Give themselves up to Nature — not in part,
But with all energy of mind and heart —
That ere returning to the world again
That little month might make them better men.
And what they talked of, what they dreamed or sung,
What tales they told, or beads of fancy strung,
What aspirations of a better time,
They formed for men, behold in rhythm and rhyme.
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