Anecdotage of Glasgow
Max O'Rell's visit to and account of
following not over complimentary, and in some
points rather burlesque description of Glasgow, from the pen of the racy
Frenchman, Max ORell, here somewhat condensed, is from
"At the time of the Reformation,
Glasgow was but an insignificant little town with five thousand
inhabitants. At the commencement of this century it contained about eighty
thousand. To-day it is the most important city of Scotland, a city which
holds, including the suburbs, very nearly a million souls, tortured by the
passion for wealth, or by misery and hunger.
"If the importance of the place is
recent, the place itself dates back more than thirteen centuries. It was
indeed in 560 that Saint Mungo founded a bishopric there. Glasgow is the
home of iron and coal. Coal underground, coal in the air, coal on peoples
faces, coal everywhere! There rise thousands of high chimneys, vomiting
flames and great clouds of smoke, which settles down on the town, and,
mixing with the humidity of the streets, form a black, sticky mud that
clogs your footsteps.
"The neighbourhood of the sea and
the Clyde has been, and still is, a source of prosperity and opulence to
the town, And here it behoves me to speak of the Scotch energy which has
made of this stream a river capable of giving anchorage to vessels drawing
twenty-four feet of water.
"In 1769, the illustrious James Watt
was directed to examine the river. At that time a small craft could
scarcely enter the river even at high water. Watt indeed found that at low
tide the rivuletfor it was nothing elsehad but a depth of one foot two
inches, and at high tide never more
three feet three inches.
"To-day you may see the largest
ironclads afloat there. This gigantic enterprise cost no less than
"It was on the Clyde that Henry
Bell, in 1812, launched the first steamboat. Since then the banks of the
Clyde have been lined with vast shipbuilding yards, which turn out from
four to five hundred vessels a year.
"Glasgow always had a taste for
smoke. Before the war of American Independence, this town had the monoply
of the tobacco commerce. Colossal fortunes were realised over the
importation of the Virginian weed in the end of last century. At present
Glasgow trades in coal, machinery, iron goods, printed calico, etc. The
Glasgow man is influenced by his surroundings.
"And now let us take a walk. The
most striking feature of Glasgow is George Square. It is large, and
literally crowded with statues, a regular carnival. It looks as if the
Glasgow folk had said, We must have some statues, but do not for all that
let us encumber the streets with them; let us keep them out of the way in
a place to themselves. If a visitor likes to go and look at them, much
good may it do him. At a certain distance the effect is that of a
cemetery, or picture to yourself Madame Tassauds
la belle etoile. When I say a la belle etoile,
it is but a figure of
speech in Glasgow.
"In this exhibition of sculpture, I
discover Scott, Burns, David Livingstone, James Watt, Prince Albert, Queen
Victoria, (Sir John Moore, Lord Clyde), Thomas Campbell, Sir Robert Peel,
(Thomas Graham, and James Oswald). Some are on foot and some on
horseback;. (while) Scott in the centre of this Kensal Green is perched on
the summit of a column eighty feet high. By dint of a little squeezing, it
would be easy to make room for a dozen more statues.
"In Queen Street, quite close to
George Square, we find the Royal Exchangean elegant building in the
Corinthian stylein front of which stands an equestrian statue of gigantic
dimensions. It is Wellingtonthe inevitable, the everlasting Wellington.
This statue was erected at the expense of the town for a sum of £10,000.
"Let us go up George Street, turn to
the left by High Street, towards the north-east, and we shall come to the
Cathedral, the only one which the frantic vandalism of the Puritans
spared. I was told in Scotland that this is how it escaped. The Puritans
had come to Glasgow in 1567 to destroy the Cathedral of Saint Mungo. But a
gardener, a practical Scot, of the neighbourhood reasoned with them in the
"My friends, you are come with the
meritorious, intention of destroying this temple of Popery. But why
destroy the edifice? It will cost a mint of money to build such another.
Could not you use this one and worship God in it after our own manner?
The Puritans, who were Scots too, saw the force of the argument, and the
Cathedral was saved. The edifice is Gothic, and very handsome. I recommend
especially the crypt under the choir. The windows are most remarkable.
"Around the Cathedral is a graveyard
containing fine monuments. I read on a tablet, put up in commemoration of
the execution of nine Covenanters (1666-1684) the following inscription,
which shows once more how they forgive in Scotland. Here is the hint to
"Theyll hear at resurrection day
To murder saints was no sweet play."
"Let us return down High Street as
far as (Trongate and) Argyle Street, the great artery of Glasgow. After a
few minutes walking, we come to Buchanan Street, the fashionable street
of GlasgowI mean the one which contains the fashionable shops, the Regent
Street of this great manufacturing city. The houses are well-built, I do
not say tastefully, but solidly. This might be said indeed of the whole
"Let us push on to Sauchiehall
Street, and there turn to the west. We presently come to the park of
Kelvingrove, undulating, well laid out, and surrounded with pretty houses.
Among the well-kept paths, flower-beds, and ponds, you forget the
coal-smoke for a time. At the end of the park runs the Kelvin, a little
stream which you cross to get to Gilmourhill, on the summit of which stand
the buildings of the University. The interior of these buildings. is
magnificent. The Bute Hall is one of the finest halls I ever saw: 108 feet
long, 75 broad, and 70 high. A splendid library and all the comfortable
accessories, which they are careful to supply studious youth with in this
country. The University cost more than half a million. With the exception
of a few other parks there is nothing more to be seen Glasgow.
"I have seen poverty and vice in
Paris, in London, in Dublin, and Brussels, but they are nothing to compare
to the spectacle that Glasgow presents. It is the living illustration of
some unwritten page of Dante. But there is money in Glasgow."
After the perusal of this, and this
last in particular, well may we exclaim in the words of our national bard
"To see ourselves as ithers see us,
It woud frae mony a blunder free us."
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