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The Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Chapter VI - Tourists


THE moralist who loved a good hater has surely no right to complain of not attracting affection ; but I fear to shock many excellent persons in professing that Dr. Johnson seems to me an overrated personality. It is a commonplace that he shows much greater in Boswell than in his own books; and to that infatuated worshipper we owe a rarely intimate knowledge of one who appeals to John Bull as full of darling national faults. No wonder that English writers should take a warm interest in such a "character," and that Cockneys should crown him as their king; but when one finds Scotsmen of insight, like Macaulay and Carlyle, joining the chorus of veneration, one hesitates to put forward one's own doubts to the contrary.

Still, at the risk of seeming to kick a dead lion, let me say what an advocatus diaboli might bring against the canonisation of Fleet Street's saint. For generations it has been dinned into our ears that this man was wise, sturdy, manly, pious, and so forth, above his fellows, while it is admitted that he was narrow-minded, ill-bred, full of petty prejudices and credulities, much of a bully, as well as on occasion a bit of a snob, as when he humbly deferred to the opinion of a Hanoverian king, whose pension he had accepted after all he said on that subject. He dealt much in moral maxims. So did Mr. Pecksniff. He was generous and kindhearted to queer objects of charity let that stand to his credit. What was his vaunted sense of religion but an erudite superstition, wide awake to the "folly and meanness of all bigotry but his own," and not saving him from craven dread of death? He had such a lazy conscience that only when stung by Churchill's satire did he bring out the volumes on the subscription for which he had been living for years. As to his love of truth, even Boswell confesses the "robust sophistry" with which he would argue for the sake of contradiction. As to his taste, let his criticisms on Shakespeare and Milton speak. And why should we all be in a tale of reverence for the wisdom whose deliverances have proved wrong on so many points, notably in his opinion of Scotsmen. But for one Scot who was no great honour to Scotland, this ponderous writer would surely have been long ago "banished to that remote uncivil Pontus of the British poets," instead of being still welcome "within the cheery circle of the evening lamp and fire."

Even if one be moved to belittle this literary leviathan, one cannot but respect the courage that took him as an inactive and infirm senior into those ill-known isles, where indeed he shows to more advantage than on some other scenes of his life, the Jacobite sentiments that were his leaven of romance seeming to soften down such insolent contempt of outlandish starvelings as counts with your stout John Bull for virtue. He visited the Hebrides at an interesting time, when their old life was undergoing a rapid transition under new conditions, the commercial order, as R. L. Stevenson says, "succeeding at a bound to an age of war abroad and patriarchal communism at home." Some account of his venturesome journey, then, may not be without interest for a generation that does not much read that classical Journey to the Western Isles, nor even Boswell's own account of his bear-show, which in truth is more readable, none the less so for embalming some of the oracle's raciest impromptus before they were cooked up into "Johnsonese."

At Inverness the tourists took to horseback, with two Highlanders running beside them to bring back the horses. They travelled down the east side of Loch Ness to Fort - Augustus, beyond which they found soldiers at work upon the new military road by which they struck across the Rough Bounds into Glenmoriston, and thence by Glenshiel to Glenelg. Neither Boswell nor Johnson has much to say of the picturesqueness that moves their successors ; the devout biographer is more concerned to record their fear of dirt and vermin, and the great lexicographer emits such recondite observations as—" Mountainous countries are not passed but with difficulty, not merely from the labour of climbing, for to climb is not always necessary; but because that which is not mountain is commonly bog, through which the way must be picked with caution." After the ascent of one trying steep the sage was so cross that his Highland attendant cried out to him, "See such pretty goats !" as to a naughty child. This familiarity amazed Boswell, who found it quite natural that his tired mentor should fly into a passion with him for riding on ahead. When they reached the inn at Gleneig there was some excuse for being sulky, since, a dirty fellow bouncing out of the bed where they were to sleep, they chose to lie rather on hay, and got nothing to eat or drink but a bottle of rum and some sugar, sent in by a gentleman as tribute to the philosopher, who now behaved more philosophically, while it was the turn of his famulus to be fretful. Had the tourist of to-day seen those inns before they were turned into hotels, he might well bless the road-makers of the Highlands. But in Glenmoriston our travellers had had the luck to find an inn of which one room possessed a chimney and another a small glass window. A generation later the Rev. James Hall has to tell of one of the havens on this route, that after a hungry journey he confined his refreshment to bottled porter, on observing the hands of both mistress and maid.

Castle Urquhart, Loch Ness

The more luminous and voluminous Pennant, who had preceded that pair of tourists in the Highlands by a couple of years, exclaims over the fact that for two hundred miles along the west coast, from Campbeltown to Thurso, there was nothing that could be called a town. In Skye there were only one or two inns, and not one shop, according to Johnson, who gives the population of the island at some 15,000. The strangers had to depend on private hospitality ; and their first experience was not cheering, as Sir Alexander Macdonald, who had come to a small house on the shore to receive them, was liberal only in bagpipe music. There were not even sugar-tongs on the table, Johnson noted with disgust, where knives and forks had made their appearance not long before; while indeed this fastidious citizen himself was in the way of eating fish with his fingers, so that his convives might have felt some need for sugar-tongs. But "Sir Sawney IS) " as he nicknames the parsimonious chief, was the one house at which he complains of mean entertainment. Usually he was treated like a lion, all the society of the district being gathered to hear him roar; and for the nonce he proved so little pock-puddingish as to enunciate "that which is not best may be yet very far from bad, and he that shall complain of his fare in the Hebrides has improved his delicacy more than his manhood." Boswell was satisfied with the respectful recognition given to his great man; and it was only towards the end of their trip that one ignorant laird asked if he belonged to the Johnsons (i.e. the MacTans) of Glencoe or of Ardnamurchan. Both travellers were edified by the books possessed by their hosts, who on the whole proved more cultured than they had expected, though their expectations were not pitched quite so low as that of an English tourist party stated, a generation later, to have equipped themselves with beads, red cloth, and such gewgaws for traffic with the naked islanders.

Spining in Skye

Skye was then mainly divided among three clans, Macdonald, Macleod, and Mackinnon, whose hereditary feuds, at last kept down by the arm of the law, began to be confused by the intrusion of strangers. The clansmen, unplaided and disarmed, had turned their claymores into such crooked spades as served them to dig up their rough soil; and Boswell observed how their targets came in useful to cover buttermilk barrels. The chiefs no longer went in semi-barbarous state with a "tail" of swashbuckling henchmen, and had ceased to keep a petty court of bards and sennachies, though a piper or two would not be wanting. Deprived of their hereditary jurisdiction, as some of them were ready to forget where the nearest magistrate might not be easily appealed to, they still had such dignity and influence that it would be their own fault if they did not attract the affectionate loyalty of which our travellers record some notable signs. But this sentiment was being uprooted by a disposition to raise the rents of their poor land, now commonly paid in money instead of kind and service. A new spirit of calculation was abroad since the days when faithful tenants had taxed themselves to pay double dues, to the power in possession, and to the exiled lord. Johnson shrewdly observed how the pastoral state began "to be a little variegated with commerce," how this Arcadia had been "a muddy mixture of pride and ignorance," and how the chiefs were disposed to take out in profit what they lost in power, then "as they gradually degenerate from patriarchal rulers to rapacious landlords, they will divest themselves of the little that remains." Pennant, who takes more note of the misery and dejection of the people, puts their numbers lower than Johnson, and states that the rental of the island, 13500 in 1750, had in twenty years been doubled or trebled on some farms.

The gentry of the island, lairds, "tacksmen," i.e. the higher class of tenants, and ministers, lived with more or less show of comfort in decent houses of two storeys, where, indeed, the parlours had often to do double duty as bedrooms, and the floors were not always clean or dry. The gentlemen, Johnson asserts, were inclined to the Episcopal Church; but could not afford any services beyond those of the parish ministers, who might have to preach in a room, at intervals of two or three weeks, beside the ruined chapels "which now stand faithful witnesses of the triumph of the Reformation." Of these pastors were "found several with whom I could not converse, without wishing, as my respect increased, that they had not been Presbyterians." He rather exaggerates in giving them the credit of having exterminated the popular superstitions, that would still take a good deal of extermination. He tells the story of Maclean caning the people of Rum away from mass, a high-handed conversion that in the neighbouring Catholic islands earned for Protestantism the nickname "religion of the yellow stick." He shows how schools were at work for enlightenment, where a century would yet pass before the three R's came within reach of every bare- trotting Gael. In Skye he heard of two grammar schools, at which boys boarded for three or four pounds a year, but only during the summer months, "for in winter provision cannot be made for any considerable number in one place."

Even in the better-class houses wheaten bread was exceptional, oaten and barley cakes being the staff of life, with meat, game, fish, cheese, and preparations of milk. The cottars' fare was chiefly some kind of brose. Their poor crops went largely in making whisky, like that "Talisker," now renowned, which is said to owe its excellence to the water coming over some dozens of falls ; but an English distillery has made in vain the expensive experiment of importing this charmed water. Only in Iona did Johnson hear of beer being brewed. Though every man took his "morning" as a matter of course, he did not see "much intemperance," convivial gentlemen being perhaps a little shy before the philosopher, who tasted whisky only once out of curiosity ("Let me know what it is that makes a Scotchman happy!"); but he cared not to inquire as to the process of distilling, "nor do I wish to improve the art of making poison pleasant." He certainly saw one "drunken dog" in the person of Boswell, who on a certain occasion sat up over a punch-bowl till 5 A.M., to be satirically rebuked by his monitor: "It is a poor thing for a fellow to get drunk at night, and skulk to bed, and let his friends have no sport." Boswell took special care to have this teetotaler provided with water at dinner, who was also well supplied with his beloved tea, and with the honey and preserves he admired on a northern breakfast table, "polluted as it was with slices of strong cheese." The main deficiency was in fruit and vegetables, chiefly represented by barley broth. Punch, made for dinner and supper, which etymologically should have five ingredients, here wanted one, for Sydney Smith was never so far from a lemon. "Under such skies can be expected no great exuberance of vegetation," indeed, and "few vows are made to Flora in the Hebrides." Some of the lairds were trying to cultivate orchards about their houses. Others were zealously introducing turnips and potatoes, that have made such a difference to the Highlands but for years were banned by the stubborn conservatism of their people, as in other parts of Europe. What late hay they gathered "by most English farmers would be thrown away."

Their stock consisted chiefly of the small cattle, in which a Highland maiden's dowry would formerly be paid, like the price of a Kaffir bride. They had also ponies, an inferior breed of sheep, many goats, with fowls and half-wild geese. The Highland prejudice against pigs was still so strong that Johnson saw only one in the Hebrides; [It is a question whether the Celtic aversion to pork had not its origin in some such reverence as the cow bears among the Hindoos. The Gaelic for pig, which to Saxon ears sounds so fitting, Muck, has honour in place- names, as that of the great Ben Muich Dhu himself, not to speak of the "Boar" of Badenoch, the "Sow" of Athole, and frequent names of lochs and islands. In older days the Highlanders appear to have abstained from eating all fish ; so at least some antiquaries assert.] and a like scunner, older than their knowledge of the Bible, kept the people from eating hares, eels, and scaleless fish such as turbot. Hares and rabbits had no chance against the big foxes, on whose head was set a guinea blood-money. Rats and mice were strangers to Skye, but the Hanover rat now began to invade some of the islands. The place of these vermin was taken by weasels, which infested even the houses.

In this land of "little sun and no shade," so deeply fretted by inlets that no part of it lies more than a few miles from the sea, where "every step is on rock or mire," Johnson missed villages and enclosures. "The traveller," he laments to Mrs. Thrale, "wanders through a naked desert, gratified sometimes, but rarely, with the sight of cows, and now and then finds a heap of loose stones and turf in a cavity between rocks, where a being born with all those powers which education expands, and all those sensations which culture refines, is condemned to shelter itself from the wind and rain." These "its" were often half starved, so could not but excite a mixture of contempt and pity in the well-fed English visitor. Pennant, with his practical eye, speaks of the people as torpid from idleness, only bestirring themselves at the pinch of famine ; but he does not want sympathy for them in the almost chronic famines due to improvidence under a miserable climate, where hundreds "annually drag through the season a wretched life; and numbers unknown, in all parts of the western isles, fall beneath the pressure, some of hunger and some of the putrid fever, the epidemic of the coasts, originating from unwholesome food."

Leaving the comparatively green promontory of Sleat, Johnson's party rode over moors and bogs to Corriechatachin, near Broadford, where bad weather kept them a couple of days till Macleod of Raasay sent his "carriage" for them, and as conductor a gentleman of the clan who had done the same service to Prince Charlie in his wanderings. The carriage turned out to be an open boat, in which four half-naked men, chorusing Gaelic songs, rowed them through the Sound of Scalpa, and across a rough open sea to the island of Raasay, Dr. Johnson sitting high on the stern "like a magnificent Triton." In the new mansion-house, to which the Laird had removed from his tumbledown castle, they found a whole troop of Macleods, who every night danced and sang in honour of their guests; but where they all slept was not so evident, some forty persons in eleven rooms. Among the rest was the Macleod of Dunvegan, a young man fresh from Oxford, who invited the strangers to his castle, for which they set out, not without scruple, on a fine Sunday. Landed at the harbour of Portree, then not even a village, where an emigrant ship was lying as hint of new times for the Highlands, they went round by Kingsburgh, that Johnson might have the satisfaction of making Flora Macdonald's acquaintance and of occupying the very bed in which the Wanderer had slept ; but the royal sheets had been devoted as shroud for the hostess. "These are not Whigs."

So little had they prospered on princely gratitude that Flora and her husband were on the point of emigrating to America, from which she eventually returned to be buried at Kilmuir in a grave left for our time to honour. From the heroine's own mouth, with ekings-out of other information, Boswell compiled an account of Charles Edward's escape, which could now be safely published: even when she had been brought a prisoner to London, the authorities seemed not very eager to convict a fair traitor whose case excited much sympathy; and perhaps the prince owed not more to her courage than to other half-loyal Macs who, in command of the local militia, winked hard at the tricks of their kinsfolk, and did not very keenly play the bloodhound upon the fugitive's doublings. Macdonalds, Macleods, and Mackinnons all were willing to help him away, though not many of them had turned out to take risks in his rash enterprise; and the poorest cottar despised that price set on his head, while one of the men who would not earn £30,000 by betraying him came afterwards to be hanged for stealing a cow. The most zealous agents of the Government in this matter seem to have been Presbyterian ministers, Lord Macaulay's grandfather for one : this might be quoted as a case of ascending heredity.

Glen Sligachan, Skye

Dunvegan, to Boswell's delight, was a real old castle, romantically placed on a rock, and his companion rejoiced to find that its chatelaine, having lived in London, "knew all the arts of southern elegance and all the modes of English economy." Pennant gives the prosaic detail that there was a post-office here, in something like a village, whence a packet sailed once a fortnight for the Long Island. "We came in at the wrong end of the island!" Johnson exclaimed, in no hurry to leave such good quarters. The old gentleman was suffering from a cold, having "very strangely slept without a nightcap," but one of the ladies of this hospitable family made him a large flannel one. As to that "strange" habit of sleeping bare-headed but for a handkerchief, Boswell very ingenuously owns that if his oracle had always worn a nightcap, and found the Highlanders not doing so, "he would have wondered at their barbarity." We may remember how in 1746 it was one of the royal fugitive's hardships to part with his wig. Now the well- nightcapped Doctor settled down in clover, dropping pearls of gruff wisdom eagerly picked up by Boswell, who for his part chuckled to be the keeper of such a treasure, comparing himself to "a dog who has got hold of a large piece of meat, and runs away with it to a corner, where he may devour it in peace." But if he had no longer to share Johnson's talk with the members of the Club, he had a rival satellite in the Rev. Donald Macqueen, minister of Snizort, who "adhered to" them on most of their journeys in Skye, and so well pleased the great man as only now and then to get a taste of his rough tongue, while his book duly compliments this gentleman on account "of our intelligence facilitated and our conversation enlarged."

At Dunvegan they stayed a week, hearing the traditions of the castle, and seeing its relics, for one that horn of Rorie More, to hold two or three bottles of wine, which every Laird of Macleod must drink at a draught in proof of his manhood; in our degenerate age, it appears, this ceremony has to be performed by help of a false bottom. No doubt they also saw, though neither of them mentions it, another more lordly drinking-cup bearing the date 993, which seems to have been a chalice; also the "fairy flag" of Dunvegan, a faded silk banner from the East, probably a relic of crusading, which may be displayed thrice and thrice only to save the house of Macleod from ruin— as it has done twice, and may do once more. Though the young chief was deep in debt, he let wine flow generously,—there being, indeed, no custom-house in Skye,—" and venison came to the table every day in its various forms.

Boswell could hardly get his unwieldy companion moved from this Capua ; but on September 21 they set out on their way back, travelling from the west coast by Ullinish and Talisker, put up by one Macleod or other as best he could ; and it made part of Highland hospitality to convoy the guests on to their next shelter. At Talisker, where their host was a colonel in the Dutch service, they met young Maclean of Coll, who henceforth became their cicerone for the southern isles. This promising laird Johnson compared to Peter the Great. He had apprenticed himself to practical farming in England as a school of improvement for the barren islands, on which he was the first to plant turnips, an innovation pronounced by Highland wiseacres "the idle project of an idle head, heated by English fancies." His father lived at Aberdeen for education of the family, leaving such full power in the hands of the son that he commonly bore the family title of "Coil," like the young Lochiel and Glengarry of '45. To the veriest cit it is hardly needful to explain that a northern laird was known by the name of his property, or a farmer by that of his holding, where indeed certain surnames may be so little distinguishing that in a hive of Campbells, Macleans, or what not, one gets to speak of children as "Johnny Loch so-and-so" or "Jessie Glen this-or-that."

With young Coil they now travelled back to Sleat, looking out for a chance of leaving Skye, which would not present itself every day in any lull of the equinoctial gales. By this time the townsmen, who had expected to slip from island to island as easily as ordering a postchaise, found it was more a question of going where and when they could. Boswell began to fidget about getting back to Edinburgh in time for the legal session, while Johnson in his whimsical moods now talked gaily of fresh adventures, then again grumbled at not being safe and comfortable on the mainland. At Armadale they were entertained more hospitably by his factor than they had been on landing by the now absent Macdonald chieftain, and the people appeared in no haste to get rid of that "honest man" who had done them the honour of coming so far to lecture them. But the wind suddenly changing, on the morning of Sunday, October 3, they were hurried on board a vessel bound for Mull. Soon a storm came on; both the unseasoned voyagers were sea-sick; Boswell was frightened to his prayers neither of them had anything to eat; and after being tossed about all day, even the skipper was glad to run before the wind for Coil, where they cast anchor.

Safely landed, young Coll took them over the island to his own house, a new one which was the best they had seen in the Hebrides, but Johnson's humour was to belittle it as "a tradesman's box." Not being occupied by the old laird, it was hardly in a state to entertain distinguished guests, for whose entertainment Coll collected from his kinsfolk such books as Lucas On Happiness, More's Dialogues, and Gregory's Geometry, that might pass for light reading beside the pocket volume Johnson had laid in at Inverness—Cocker's Arithmetic! —Boswell having then equipped himself with Ovid's Epistles to "solace many a weary hour." Johnson took interest in the traditions of the family, while his host was forward to show him signs of nascent civilisation, about huts with gardens gathered into a clachan. Coil had a shop and actually a mile of road, not to speak of a school kept in summer by a young man who walked all the way to Aberdeen for the university session. Here the visitors remained imprisoned for a week, then moved down to the harbour to be ready for the sailing of a Campbeltown kelp-ship on which they had engaged passage for Mull. On the morning of the 14th the chance came by a fair breeze, and with Coll in attendance they reached Tobermory at mid-day, just in time to escape the daily gale that kept some dozen ships bound in this harbour.

At Tobermory they found rest in a "tolerable inn," from which Boswell hints how it was not easy to start his companion, while Johnson admits that the eagerness to see Iona, as bouquet of their tour, was mainly on Boswell's side. Taking horse, they rode through thick and thin over the northern part of Mull, "a most dolorous country," where Johnson lost the oak stick which he declared to be a valuable piece of timber in such a wilderness. "Your country consists of two things, stone and water. There is indeed a little earth above the stone in some places, but a very little; and the stone is always appearing. It is like a man in rags the naked skin is still peeping out." Such were the complimentary jests by which Boswell reports him earning from the open-mouthed natives so admiring epithets as "a hogshead of sense" and a "dungeon of wit," where indeed any kind of stranger would be as welcome as a peepshow, and two learned gentlemen from London and Edinburgh made a whole circus.

At night the boat of an Irish vessel obligingly ferried them across to put up with M'Quarrie, "chief of Ulva's isle," about to sell his possessions for debt and to enter the army at the age of sixty-two, with forty years of life still before him. A Campbell, of course, was the purchaser. Next day they went on by boat to Inch Kenneth, where in dwindled state lived Sir Allan Maclean, head of another clan whose star paled before the risen sun of the Campbells. On this island Johnson's heart was cheered by the sight of a cart road, and Boswell's by a parcel of the Caledonian Mercury, the first newspaper he had seen for many a day. A little later, on the mainland, they found in a Glasgow paper a report that Dr. Johnson was still kept in Skye by bad weather, on which the paragrapher of the period smartly remarked—"Such a philosopher detained on an almost barren island resembles a whale left upon the strand." Could he have heard Goldsmith's happy hit at the stylist who "would make little fishes talk like whales"?

After a day's rest, parting with Coil, they put themselves in charge of his chief, who took them along the coast in an open boat to Iona, till lately his own property, but now sold to the Duke of Argyll. None the less was Maclean welcomed with humble affection by his transferred clansmen, to one of whom, that had offended him by not sending some rum, his bitterest reproach was, "I believe you are a Campbell!" These men belonged to the generation over which their chief had once power of life and death; and to Boswell the culprit protested, "Had he sent his dog for the rum, I would have given it; I would cut my bones for him!" The pilgrims from Fleet Street, who embraced each other on touching this sacred shore, were in too exalted mood to grumble at having to sleep in a barn. In the morning they examined the ruins that stirred Johnson's famous paragraph—" Far be from me and from my friends such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue." At the time Boswell showed himself the more deeply affected, who left his breakfast to return to the cathedral for solitary meditation. "I hoped that, ever after having been in this holy place, I should maintain an exemplary conduct." Johnson mischievously writes to Mrs. Thrale how at Inch Kenneth his disciple had stolen into the ruins there to pray, but was soon scared out by fear of spectres.

Landed again in Mull, they travelled round its south shore by Loch Buy, and on October 22 were ferried across to Oban. Next day they rode on to Inveraray, in bad weather, which almost for the first time moved Johnson to what our generation finds a becoming sentiment. "The wind was low, the rain was heavy, and the whistling of the blast, the fall of the shower, the rush of the cataracts, and the roar of the torrent, made a nobler chorus of the rough music of nature than it had ever been my chance to hear before." In ten miles they crossed fifty-five streams. He was better pleased to come upon a good road that led them to an inn "not only commodious but magnificent," at Inveraray, where "the difficulties of peregrination were now at an end."

The distinguished chiels who had been taking such notes spent nearly two months on a trip done by the live transatlantic tourist in as many days. They had passed through and near some of the scenic wonders of the kingdom, with as little notice as if these had been Primrose Hill or Turnham Green. Wherever they stopped they made a point of civilly visiting what ruins, antiquities, and such like were on show, but it does not appear that they asked for beauty or sublimity, nor did their guides suggest going out of the way for any prospect beyond that of a bed and a dinner. Boswell wa, the less Cockneyish of the two, who could cry out at sight of an "immense mountain" which Johnson scornfully put in its place as an "immense protuberance"; and we know how he thought one green field as like another as two straws. They did turn aside to see the Falls of Foyers, as to Boswell seems not worth mentioning, while the rough scramble made Johnson wish "that our curiosity might have been gratified with less trouble and danger."

All travellers of that century, till Gray, were much of the same mind. Pennant has small space to waste on Highland scenery, though he so far comes under the genius loci as to put his very wide-awake view of the people in the form of a fictitious dream. Burt frankly found the mountains ugly, "most disagreeable when the heather is in bloom "—prodigious! On Raasay Boswell was so frisky as to walk over the island and dance at the top of Duncan, but he has not a word to say about the view. For all their interest in Prince Charlie, nobody took the Fleet Street gentlemen to see his cave near Portree; and but for passing by Kingsburgh they left untouched the north-eastern peninsula of Trotternish, tipped by the Macdonald castle of Duntulm and edged by the long line of precipitous faces showing the giant's teeth of the Storr and such a "nightmare of nature" as the Quiraing. The north-western headland, Vaternish, they skirted to gain the Macleod castle, where Johnson "tasted lotus" at the young chief's board, but was less concerned about the mighty moor-mounds called "Macleod's Tables," and never heard of "Macleod's Maidens," those graceful spires rising sheer out of the sea, nor of that dizzy 'Waterstein cliff that faces the Atlantic near Dunvegan, and is continued by precipitous walls down to Talisker. He could not help hearing Rorie More's cascade, to which he one day took a toddle between the showers; but neither the bear nor his monkey put himself much about unless to look owlishly at some "Temple of Anaitis," or some cave recalling that of Virgil's Sibyl. Boswell just mentions the Coolins, as reminding him of Corsica, but nobody drew their attention to that wild sierra conspicuous from nearly every part of Skye, an eerie chaos of wrinkled, rusted, ruined tops that "resemble the other hills on the earth's surface as Hindoo deities resemble human beings"; nobody told them of the black lochs and gloomy corries hidden in those storm-breeding recesses nobody advised them to make the rough tramp up Glen Sligachan or the perilous ascent of Blaaven, or even to look at that highest point whose name titles it Inachievable, as it is not to practised mountaineers of our own time. Two well-to-do gentlemen had not come all the way from London and Edinburgh to distress themselves by going near that "most savage scene of desolation in Britain "—hardly accessible still unless through Loch Scavaig's brighter anteroom, and then shunned by the Skyemen as goblin-haunted—the naked hollow of Loch Coruisk, whose uncanny solitude a child then in the nursery would bring to fame as a Highland Acheron:

Seems that primeval earthquake's sway
Hath rent a strange and shatter'd way
Through the rude bosom of the hill,
And that each naked precipice,
Sable ravine, and dark abyss,
Tells of the outrage still.
The wildest glen, but this, can show
Some touch of Nature's genial glow;
On high Benmore green mosses grow,
And heath-bells bud in deep Glencoe,
And copse on Cruchan-Ben
But here,—above, around, below,
On mountain or in glen,
Nor tree, nor shrub, nor plant, nor flower,
Nor ought of vegetative power,
The weary eye may ken.
For all is rocks at random thrown,
Black waves, bare crags, and banks of stone,
As if were here denied
The summer sun, the spring's sweet dew,
That clothe with many a varied hue
The bleakest mountain-side.

In coasting Skye, not indeed along the finest stretch, all our ponderous Rambler observed was how the crags made landing difficult, especially for an enemy ; while Boswell cast a glance at "hills and mountains in gradations of wildness." The latter, even when not perturbed by a rough sea-passage, owns that he finds "a difficulty in describing visible objects," such as those revealing themselves thus to a ready writer of our time.

Loch Coruisk, Skye

Here we beheld a sight which seemed the glorious fabric of a vision :—a range of small heights sloping from the deep green sea, every height crowned with a columnar cliff of basalt, and each rising over each, higher and higher, till they ended in a cluster of towering columns, minarets, and spires, over which hovered wreaths of delicate mist, suffused with the pink light from the east. We were looking on the spiral pillars of the Q uiraing. In a few minutes the vision had faded; for the yacht was flying faster and faster, assisted a little too much by a savage puff from off the Quiraing's great cliffs ; but other forms of beauty arose before us as we went. The whole coast from Aird Point to Portrec forms a panorama of cliff-scenery quite unmatched in Scotland. Layers of limestone dip into the sea, which washes them into horizontal forms, resembling gigantic slabs of white and grey masonry, rising sometimes stair above stair, water-stained, and hung with many-coloured weed; and on these slabs stand the dark cliffs and spiral columns: towering into the air like the fretwork of some Gothic temple, roofless to the sky; clustered sometimes together in black masses of eternal shadow; torn open here and there to show glimpses of shining lawns sown in the heart of the stone, or flashes of torrents rushing in silver veins through the darkness; crowned in some places by a green patch, on which the goats feed small as mice; and twisting frequently into towers of most fantastical device, that lie dark and spectral against the grey background of the air. To our left we could now behold the island of Rona, and the northern end of Raasay. All our faculties, however, were soon engaged in contemplating the Storr, the highest part of the northern ridge of Skye, terminating in a mighty insulated rock or monolith which points solitary to heaven, two thousand three hundred feet above the sea, while at its base rock and crag have been torn into the wildest forms by the teeth of earthquake, and a great torrent leaps foaming into the Sound. As we shot past, a dense white vapour enveloped the lower part of the Storr, and towers, pyramids, turrets, monoliths were shooting out above it like a supernatural city in the clouds.

Skye Crofter

From writers like Robert Buchanan one might quote dozens of such enthusiastic descriptions, showing how a later generation has gone back closer to the bosom of Mother Nature than lay that age of wigs and nightcaps. Yet it is those whose play rather than their work takes them into the wilds who are most prone to such new enthusiasm. Now that Skye is somewhat thinly dotted with birch and larch clumps and gardens, and belted with a high-road winding round her deep inlets between groups of houses where church, schoolhouse, and hotel have sprung up beneath cairns and ruins, her inhabitants are rather apt to wonder why strangers give themselves so much trouble in seeking out the most forbidding wilds of their island, that excite their own feelings no more than Cobbett admired Hindhead when he found the roads rough and the soil not suitable for turnips. Those weird scenes which the well-fed Sassenach seeks, as Buchanan says, to "galvanise" his soul with holiday emotion, overshadow the cottar's daily life with poverty, hunger, and dread. Some parts of Skye have now been made comparatively trim and tame, beside others left hopelessly barren and dismal, with peat and rushes for their best crop; but nowhere perhaps in Britain can one better learn how "nature is not always gracious; that not always does she outstretch herself in low-lying bounteous lands, over which sober sunsets redden and heavy-uddered cattle low; but that she has fierce hysterical moods in which she congeals into granite precipice and peak, and draws around herself and her companions the winds that moan and bluster, veils of livid rain." This poor "island of cloud" is indeed most rich in "frozen terror and superstition" for those who have eyes to see.

Between contemporary pilgrims of the picturesque and the dull observers of older days, came to Skye an invasion of geologists and such like, who did much towards proclaiming its grand points. One of the pioneers of scientific invasion was the Frenchman Faujas de St. Fond, who does not shine in the orthography of Scottish names. But of these explorers one need not speak here, unless to distinguish that humorous and hard-headed savant MacCulloch, whose hammer was brought to bear on many time-weathered sentiments. His Western Islands is more strictly geological, but his Highlands and Western Isles is full of rollicking pages, though stuffed rather too much with learned facetiousness, which would have tickled Mr. Shandy, while it may prove hard reading "when, in after ages, the youths of Polynesia shall be flogged into English and Gaelic as we have been into Greek and Latin "a sentence that appears rough sketch for a more celebrated Mac's New Zealander. Macaulay may also have lifted the formula, "every schoolboy knows," from this author, who varies that phrase by "the merest schoolboy" or "the minutest Grecian," and in more boldly laying down "all the world knows what Callimachus says," will not recommend himself to a generation better acquainted with Macaulay's dicta and dogmata than with what song the Sirens sang, or what tartan Achilles wore when he seems to have disguised himself in a kilt. Another famous saying, that has become a cliché in our day, as to the South Sea islanders' trade of taking in one another's washing, seems adumbrated by MacCulloch's wonder how Highland shopkeepers contrive to keep open, "unless they have agreed to live on gingerbread kings and carraway comfits, and to buy all their pins and tape from each other." And for a final sample of this author's shrewd wit, let us hear that "never have books been so black, so thick, so large and so long, as when they have been written about nothings." This warning spurs me on from digressions that might be extended to a folio—

Heavy and thick as a wall of brick,
But not so heavy and not so thick
As—

some volumes of travel one could mention.

One need not waste many words on the Cockney tourists who get the length of Skye to stare at the children's bare legs and to sniff at the peat fires, such admiration as they are capable of being directed by tourist tickets and guide-books. By Cockneyism I do not mean citizenship of the world's greatest city; indeed it is not for me to file the international nest that has grown so big round the sound of Bow Bells. To be a right Cockney is to be impotent of any outlook but from our own Charing Cross or other restricted observatory, in which moral sense we are all by nature Cockneys, some more, some less. There are Cockneys of time as well as of place. The eighteenth was very much of a Cockney century, hoodwinked by its own wigs, nightcaps, pews, quartos, and other indispensable institutions. The nineteenth century has taken pains to foster a more catholic spirit ; but some of its sons are slow to learn how poor is their little duck paddle or brackish lochan beside the ocean that goes round the earth, itself a drop in that inconceivable immensity of forces and phenomena against which the brightest human life flies out to die like the tiniest peat spark.

To my mind some of the most offensive Cockneys are those who never drop the Ii of" Hail Columbia!" I am not specially dotting the i's of this remark for a certain couple that some years ago undertook to make Johnson's tour on foot, then, finding the weather chill and wet, came back to publish an ill-humoured and well-illustrated book that got them into critical hot water. Still less need one have anything but a thousand welcomes for the American travellers who are travellers indeed, who look through glasses of knowledge and sympathy rather than through prejudiced goggles dulling every prospect, seen as from the rush of a motor-car. But there is a kind of U.S.A. bookmaker, who very much "fancies" his acuteness, bounded on one side by the spelling-book and on the other by the sensational newspaper ; and such a smart descendant of ours has no shame in exposing his narrow-mindedness while exulting over the nakedness of his grandfatherland. Boswell did not write himself down an ass more plainly than some note-takers I could quote, whose standard of measurement seems always the Capitol at Washington, the water tower of Chicago, the Nob Hill of 'Frisco, or some other universal hub of their self-satisfaction. What they always cry out upon is the poverty, the shiftlessness, the backwardness of Highland homes, for which they go on to blame the landlords as tyrants unscrupulous as Tammany bosses, or Western evictors of Nez Percés Indians. Their pity for the poor does them credit; but much of it is wasted by complacent philanthropists unable to conceive how life may be worth living without ice-cream, elevators, political "machines," hourly newspaper editions, endless Stock Exchange tapes, and the like necessaries of high-toned civilisation. To this kind of transatlantic tripper who comes hurriedly poking into lordly hail and smoky hovel, peeping with such an uppish air on our manners and customs as if we were Sandwich Islanders, one would say Proculeste profani! but of course one might as well try to scare a yellow - press reporter with a notice to trespassers. And when the like of him has published his hasty impressions, these may make wholesome study for us as showing how our ancient idols strike a stranger from some exceedingly "up to date" standpoint.

To find the western islands described with insight and sympathy one can go to the writers above quoted, and to Miss Gordon Cumming's Hebrides, which I have not quoted on Skye, for fear of being tempted to deck my grey page unduly in borrowed plumes as from some bird of paradise. She was doubly a Highlander by blood, who could also inform her survey with comparisons wide-drawn from other lands. Buchanan, I fear, was born south of the Border, yet his forebears must have heard the slogan of the wild Macfarlanes on Loch Lomond. As for Alexander Smith, unless descended from some Highland Gow, such as that Hal who fought on the Inch of Perth, he may frankly be set down for a Sassenach, a Kilmarnock body "at that" but this poet's prose is thick set with Highlands of fancy; and no book of the kind makes better reading than his Summer in Skye. All these writers, by the way, have a good word for Dr. Johnson, who so roughly abused their country; and when I consider how that worthy did penance at Uttoxeter for a sin of his youth, I am half-minded to humble myself on the cutty-stool as else unable to look up to one whom so many better men have judged great and wise.


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