Politics often inspire the electors; occasionally (I have heard) grave seniors use their influence, mainly for reasons of academic policy.
In December 1887 Murray writes about an election in which Mr. Lowell was a candidate. `A pitiful protest was entered by an' (epithets followed by a proper name) `against Lowell, on the score of his being an alien. Mallock, as you learn, was withdrawn, for which I am truly thankful.' Unlucky Mr. Mallock! `Lowell polled 100 and Gibson 92 . . . The intrigues and corruption appear to be almost worthy of an American Presidential election.' Mr. Lowell could not accept a compliment which pleased him, because of his official position, and the misfortune of his birth!
Murray was already doing a very little `miniature journalism,' in the form of University Notes for a local paper. He complains of the ultra Caledonian frankness with which men told him that they were very bad. A needless, if friendly, outspokenness was a feature in Scottish character which he did not easily endure. He wrote a good deal of verse in the little University paper, now called College Echoes.
If Murray ever had any definite idea of being ordained for the ministry in any `denomination,' he abandoned it. His `bursaries' (scholarships or exhibitions), on which he had been passing rich, expired, and he had to earn a livelihood. It seems plain to myself that he might easily have done so with his pen. A young friend of my own (who will excuse me for thinking that his bright verses are not BETTER than Murray's) promptly made, by these alone, an income which to Murray would have been affluence. But this could not be done at St. Andrews. Again, Murray was not in contact with people in the centre of newspapers and magazines. He went very little into general society, even at St. Andrews, and thus failed, perhaps, to make acquaintances who might have been `useful.' He would have scorned the idea of making useful acquaintances. But without seeking them, why should we reject any friendliness when it offers itself? We are all members one of another. Murray speaks of his experience of human beings, as rich in examples of kindness and good-will. His shyness, his reserve, his extreme unselfishness,-- carried to the point of diffidence,--made him rather shun than seek older people who were dangerously likely to be serviceable. His manner, when once he could be induced to meet strangers, was extremely frank and pleasant, but from meeting strangers he shrunk, in his inveterate modesty.
In 1886 Murray had the misfortune to lose is father, and it became, perhaps, more prominently needful that he should find a profession. He now assisted Professor Meiklejohn of St. Andrews in various kinds of literary and academic work, and in him found a friend, with whom he remained in close intercourse to the last. He began the weary path, which all literary beginners must tread, of sending contributions to magazines. He seldom read magazine articles. `I do not greatly care for "Problems" and "vexed questions." I am so much of a problem and a vexed question that I have quite enough to do in searching for a solution of my own personality.' He tried a story, based on `a midnight experience' of his own; unluckily he does not tell us what that experience was. Had he encountered one of the local ghosts?
`My blood-curdling romance I offered to the editor of Longman's Magazine, but that misguided person was so ill-advised as to return it, accompanied with one of these abominable lithographed forms conveying his hypocritical regrets.' Murray sent a directed envelope with a twopenny-halfpenny stamp. The paper came back for three-halfpence by book-post. `I have serious thoughts of sueing him for the odd penny!' `Why should people be fools enough to read my rot when they have twenty volumes of Scott at their command?' He confesses to `a Scott-mania almost as intense as if he were the last new sensation.' `I was always fond of him, but I am fonder than ever now.' This plunge into the immortal romances seems really to have discouraged Murray; at all events he says very little more about attempts in fiction of his own. `I am a barren rascal,' he writes, quoting Johnson on Fielding. Like other men, Murray felt extreme difficulty in writing articles or tales which have an infinitesimal chance of being accepted. It needs a stout heart to face this almost fixed certainty of rejection: a man is weakened by his apprehensions of a lithographed form, and of his old manuscript coming home to roost, like the Graces of Theocritus, to pine in the dusty chest where is their chill abode. If the Alexandrian poets knew this ill-fortune, so do all beginners in letters. There is nothing for it but `putting a stout heart to a stey brae,' as the Scotch proverb says. Editors want good work, and on finding a new man who is good, they greatly rejoice. But it is so difficult to do vigorous and spontaneous work, as it were, in the dark. Murray had not, it is probable, the qualities of the novelist, the narrator. An excellent critic he might have been if he had `descended to criticism,' but he had, at this time, no introductions, and probably did not address reviews at random to editors. As to poetry, these much-vexed men receive such enormous quantities of poetry that they usually reject it at a venture, and obtain the small necessary supplies from agreeable young ladies. Had Murray been in London, with a few literary friends, he might soon have been a thriving writer of light prose and light verse. But the enchantress held him; he hated London, he had no literary friends, he could write gaily for pleasure, not for gain. So, like the Scholar Gypsy, he remained contemplative,
`Waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.'
About this time the present writer was in St. Andrews as Gifford Lecturer in Natural Theology. To say that an enthusiasm for totems and taboos, ghosts and gods of savage men, was aroused by these lectures, would be to exaggerate unpardonably. Efforts to make the students write essays or ask questions were so entire a failure that only one question was received--as to the proper pronunciation of `Myth.' Had one been fortunate enough to interest Murray, it must have led to some discussion of his literary attempts. He mentions having attended a lecture given by myself to the Literary Society on `Literature as a Profession,' and he found the lecturer `far more at home in such a subject than in the Gifford Lectures.' Possibly the hearer was `more at home' in literature than in discussions as to the origin of Huitzilopochtli. `Literature,' he says, `never was, is not, and never will be, in the ordinary sense of the term, a profession. You can't teach it as you can the professions, you can't succeed in it as you can in the professions, by dint of mere diligence and without special aptitude . . . I think all this chatter about the technical and pecuniary sides of literature is extremely foolish and worse than useless. It only serves to glut the idle curiosity of the general public about matters with which they have no concern, a curiosity which (thanks partly to American methods of journalism) has become simply outrageous.'