HUGH or, as he is familiarly called, Hughie Haliburton, the Author of the Sketches of Scottish Life and Character among the Ochils contained in the present collection, has at least the merit of writing upon a subject which he knows personally, and in which he is directly interested. He lives among the people whom he describes – wears their dress, speaks their language, shares their joys and sorrows. He is, in short, one of themselves. He counts himself, and is counted, no better than his neighbours – except only that he is allowed to lay special claim to a gift of graphic expression, which on occasion takes a metrical form.
His Pastorals reveal all about himself that he cares to make known. They represent him as a veritable shepherd living in healthy solitude with social instincts. His housekeeper on the hillside is a “single” sister – for Hughie is a bachelor. He has at various times pondered the idea of entering the marriage state, but hitherto something has always occurred to postpone or prevent a decision. He is now, in his own language, “wearin’ near twa score an’ ten,” and, though fleeting visions of a mysterious Peggy occasionally cross his dreams by night, his thoughts by day return to celibacy and soberness. He is however no enemy to matrimony in others: he can congratulate his friend Jamie on leaving the ranks of “the Wanters,” and console Nannie in the absence of Davie with an assurance of Davie’s faithfulness.
Hughie’s philosophy of human life is perhaps worthy of particular attention. It is at once cheerful, manly, and practical. To look habitually at the bright side of things, to attend always to present duty, and generally to follow the dictates of common sense are among its features. There is besides a wide sympathy, guided by intelligence and guarded by humour, plainly present in Hughie’s philosophical practice, which proves his heart to be as good as his head.
Of Hughie’s many friends, old and young, male and female, it would be invidious to particularise one more than another. It may be remarked generally that, if they stand forth with the dramatic distinctness of figure and character which obtains in real life, it is because they are no mere imaginary abstractions, but flesh and blood realities, moving about among the Ochils at the present moment, lusty and world-like – with the solitary exception of Andro, whose untimely death still casts a gloom over one nook of the hills.
The bit of Latin at the beginning of each sketch is put there by the Editor, who sees in Hughie’s experience of life among the hills of Scotland a remarkable correspondence to that of Horace, twenty centuries ago, in ancient Rome.
J. Logie Robertson.