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Fraternity! Love's other name!
Dear, heaven-connecting link of Being! Then shall we grasp thy golden dream,
As souls, full-statured, grow far-seeing.. Thou shalt unfold our better part.
And in our Life-cup yield more honey; Light up with joy the poor man's heart, And Love's own world with smiles more sunny.
'Tis coming! yes, 't is coming!
Ay, it must come! The Tyrant's throne
Is canker d, with our heart's blood
Room! for the men of Mind make way!
The People's Advent's coming!
Although not reared amongst the whirring steam engines, or surrounded by sights so miserable as those described by Gerald Massey, Robert Nicoll's childhood was spent in poverty, his youth was a struggle against difficulty and disease.
He was born on the 7th of January, 1814, in the parish of Auchtergaven, in Perthshire. His father was, at Robert's birth, a respectable farmer; but, having become surety to the amount of £600, for a relative, who failed and absconded, he was forced to sell his farm to defray the debt, and he became, in Robert's second year, a day-laborer upon the fields, which he had recently held in his own possession. At nine months old Robert could speak as infants speak; at eighteen months he knew his letters, and in his fifth year he could read the New Testament, and his mother was his teacher. In an account of his early life, written for a friend, he observes, after relating his father's misfortune :
"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. 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, now of Glasgow, in adverting to Robert's childhood, it is stated:
"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."
His school education consisted of two years attendance upon a young student named Marshal, attendance for short periods in two other schools, and six weeks instruction in the parish school Monedie. He seems to have learned little beyond writing and accounts, with some slight knowledge of Geometry. Of languages, save the English, he never acquired more than the Latin rudiments. Whilst attending Marshall, being then in his twelfth year, a book club was established in a neighbouring village, and of it, and of his after reading, he gave the following account, in the sketch of his life to which we have already referred:
"When I had saved a sufficient quantity of silver coin, I became a member. I had previously devoured all the books to be got in the parish for love, and I soon devoured all those in the library for money. Besides, by that time I began to get larger fees,' (the Scotch word is the best,) 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.
"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 poets 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 fire is a hard task: but summer is now coming-and then !"
Whilst residing in Perth it was his custom to rise, during the summer, at five o'clock, and proceeding to the North Inch, he seated himself there and read and wrote in the open air until seven o'clock, at which hour his employer's shop was opened; he also joined a debating society of young men, and its object appears to have been partly political and partly literary. At one of these meetings he read a story entitled Il Zingaro, which he sent to Johnstone's Magazine; it was accepted and printed, and thus in his eighteenth year, (1832) he made his first appearance as an author. Having injured himself internally by incautiously lifting a heavy weight, and having increased the injury by too assiduous study, he was obliged to return to his native air, through the effect of which he rapidly recovered, and set out for Edinburgh in search of employment; he could obtain none, but having been introduced to Robert Chambers and Robert Gilfillan, and either through their encouragement, or from the natural bent of his own mind, he resolved to devote his whole attention to literature; and as a further means of support, he was induced to open a circulating library in Dundee, which he was enabled to do through the slight assistance of his friends and his own frugal and self-denying habits.
It will have been perceived that in politics he was a radical. He delivered political lectures, made speeches, and read much, and wrote largely and frequently for the liberal newspapers of the town; and, in addition, prepared his volume of Poems and Lyrics. The work was put to press in one of the newspaper offices of Dundee, and the cost was almost defrayed by the subscriptions of the young workmen of the town; Mr. Tait, of Edinburgh,
consenting to become the publisher. Being unable, owing to his want of capital, and to his literary occupations,to carry on the library, he assigned it to a young man whom he had some short time previously taken into partnership; besides he had fallen in love with a niece of the editor of one of the papers to which he contributed, and was anxious to discover some more certain means of obtaining a livelihood. To add to his troubles he had involved his mother in pecuniary engagements to the amount of twenty pounds, which, though a small sum, was a very considerable loss to her. Shortly before disposing of the library he wrote thus to his mother :
"Half the unhappiness of 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."
In 1836 he determined to remove to London, but upon reaching Edinburgh he was offered employment by Mr. Tait, and shortly afterwards he obtained, through the intervention of the same kind friend, the situation of editor of The Leeds Times, with the salary of one hundred pounds per annum. He rendered this paper a very able advocate of radicalism, and waged a fierce warfare with the opposite organ, The Leeds Mercury.
In December, 1836, he married Miss Alice Suter, the young lady to whom we have already referred. She possessed considerable beauty, was about two years younger than her husband, but of constitution more delicate than his own. wedded life was happy, and he stated that, from the period of his marriage to his death, he never dined out of his own. lodgings.
The spring of 1837 was cold and harsh, and it developed the disease under which Nicoll laboured; this attack was rendered
still more violent by the exertions which Nicoll felt himself bound to make in aiding to secure the return of Sir William Molesworth, who contested the representation of Leeds with Sir John Beckett. Nicoll was ordered to seek his native air at once; there his health improved, and he removed to Knaresborough, where lodgings were provided for him by a friend. Whilst residing at Knaresborough he wrote the following letter to his brother, and we insert it as a very beautiful expression of thought and feeling :
"KNARESBOROUGH, 10th October, 1837.
"MY 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. Oh, 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 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 know 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