Hector Macintosh was a young man about five-and-twenty, who, with the proclivities of the Celt, inherited also some of the consequent disabilities, as well as some that were accidental. Among the rest was a strong tendency to regard only the ideal, and turn away from any authority derived from an inferior source. His chief delight lay in the attempt to embody, in what seemed to him the natural form of verse, the thoughts in him constantly moving at least in the direction of the ideal, even when he was most conscious of his inability to attain to the utterance of them. But it was only in the retirement of his own chamber that he attempted their embodiment; of all things, he shrank from any communion whatever concerning these cherished matters. Nor, indeed, had he any friends who could tempt him to share with them what seemed to him his best; so that, in truth, he was intimate with none. His mind would dwell much upon love and friendship in the imaginary abstract, but of neither had he had the smallest immediate experience. He had cherished only the ideals of the purest and highest sort of either passion, and seemed to find satisfaction enough in the endeavor to embody such in his verse, without even imagining himself in communication with any visionary public. The era had not yet dawned when every scribbler is consumed with the vain ambition of being recognized, not, indeed, as what he is, but as what he pictures himself in his secret sessions of thought. That disease could hardly attack him while yet his very imaginations recoiled from the thought of the inimical presence of a stranger consciousness. Whether this was modesty, or had its hidden base in conceit, I am, with the few insights I have had into his mind, unable to determine.
That he had leisure for the indulgence of his bent was the result of his peculiar position. He lived in the house of his father, and was in his father’s employment, so that he was able both to accommodate himself to his father’s requirements and at the same time fully indulge his own especial taste. The elder Macintosh was a banker in one of the larger county towns of Scotland–at least, such is the profession and position there accorded by popular consent to one who is, in fact, only a bank-agent, for it is a post involving a good deal of influence and a yet greater responsibility. Of this responsibility, however, he had allowed his son to feel nothing, merely using him as a clerk, and leaving him, as soon as the stated hour for his office-work expired, free in mind as well as body, until the new day should make a fresh claim upon his time and attention. His mother seldom saw him except at meals, and, indeed, although he always behaved dutifully to her, there was literally no intercommunion of thought or feeling between them–a fact which probably had a good deal to do with the undeveloped condition in which Hector found, or rather, did not find himself. Occasionally his mother wanted him to accompany her for a call, but he avoided yielding as much as possible, and generally with success; for this was one of the claims of social convention against which he steadily rebelled–the more determinedly that in none of his mother’s friends could he take the smallest interest; for she was essentially a commonplace because ambitious woman, without a spark of aspiration, and her friends were of the same sort, without regard for anything but what was–or, at least, they supposed to be–the fashion. Indeed, it was hard to understand how Hector came ever to be born of such a woman, although in truth she was of as pure Celtic origin as her husband–only blood is not spirit, and that is often clearly manifest. His father, on the other hand, was not without some signs of an imagination–quite undeveloped, indeed, and, I believe, suppressed by the requirements of his business relations. At the same time, Hector knew that he cherished not a little indignation against the insolence of the good Dr. Johnson in regard to both Ossian and his humble translator, Macpherson, upholding the genuineness of both, although unable to enter into and set forth the points of the argument on either side. As to Hector, he reveled in the ancient traditions of his family, and not unfrequently in his earlier youth had made an attempt to re-embody some of its legends into English, vain as regarded the retention of the special airiness and suggestiveness of their vaguely showing symbolism, for often he dropped his pen with a sigh of despair at the illusiveness of the special aroma of the Celtic imagination. For the rest, he had had as good an education as Scotland could in those days afford him, one of whose best features was the negative one that it did not at all interfere with the natural course of his inborn tendencies, and merely developed the power of expressing himself in what manner he might think fit. Let me add that he had a good conscience–I mean, a conscience ready to give him warning of the least tendency to overstep any line of prohibition; and that, as yet, he had never consciously refused to attend to such warning.