Rab and His Friends by John Brown

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Page 1

"The gleam, the shadow, and the peace supreme"

of a midsummer night, I sat down about twelve and rose at four, having
finished it. I slunk off to bed, satisfied and cold. I don't think I
made almost any changes in it. I read it to the Biggar folk in the
school-house, very frightened, and felt I was reading it ill, and their
honest faces intimated as much in their affectionate puzzled looks. I
gave it on my return home to some friends, who liked the story; and the
first idea was to print it, as now, with illustrations, on the principle
of Rogers's joke, "that it would be dished except for the plates."

But I got afraid of the public, and paused. Meanwhile, some good friend
said Rab might be thrown in among the other idle hours, and so he was;
and it is a great pleasure to me to think how many new friends he got.

I was at Biggar the other day, and some of the good folks told me, with
a grave smile peculiar to that region, that when Rab came to them in
print he was so good that they wouldn't believe he was the same Rab I
had delivered in the school-room,--a testimony to my vocal powers of
impressing the multitude somewhat conclusive.

I need not add that this little story is, in all essentials, true,
though, if I were Shakespeare, it might be curious to point out where
Phantasy tried her hand, sometimes where least suspected.

It has been objected to it as a work of art that there is too much pain;
and many have said to me, with some bitterness, "Why did you make me
suffer so?" But I think of my father's answer when I told him this: "And
why shouldn't they suffer? SHE suffered; it will do them good; for pity,
genuine pity, is, as old Aristotle says, 'of power to purge the mind.'"
And though in all works of art there should be a plus of delectation,
the ultimate overcoming of evil and sorrow by good and joy,--the end of
all art being pleasure,--whatsoever things are lovely first, and things
that are true and of good report afterwards in their turn,--still there
is a pleasure, one of the strangest and strongest in our nature, in
imaginative suffering with and for others,--

"In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;"

for sympathy is worth nothing, is, indeed, not itself, unless it has in
it somewhat of personal pain. It is the hereafter that gives to

"the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still,"

its own infinite meaning. Our hearts and our understandings follow Ailie
and her "ain man" into that world where there is no pain, where no one
says, "I am sick." What is all the philosophy of Cicero, the wailing of
Catullus, and the gloomy playfulness of Horace's variations on "Let us
eat and drink," with its terrific "for," to the simple faith of the
carrier and his wife in "I am the resurrection and the Life"?

I think I can hear from across the fields of sleep and other years
Ailie's sweet, dim, wandering voice trying to say,--

Our bonnie bairn's there, John,
She was baith gude and fair, John,
And we grudged her sair, John,
To the land o' the leal.

But sorrow's sel' wears past, John,
The joys are comin' fast, John,
The joys that aye shall last, John,
In the land o' the leal.


[Illustration: a cherub]


Portrait, Dr. John Brown . . . . . . . Frontispiece.

Rab . . . . . . . . Hermann Simon

"He is muzzled!". . . . . Hermann Simon

"He lifted down Ailie his wife" . . . Edmund H. Garrett

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 22nd Aug 2019, 2:59