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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Max O'Rell's visit to and account of Glasgow


THE following not over complimentary, and in some points rather burlesque description of Glasgow, from the pen of the racy Frenchman, Max O’Rell, here somewhat condensed, is from Friend Macdonald.

"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 people’s 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 rivulet—for it was nothing else—had but a depth of one foot two inches, and at high tide never more than three feet three inches.

"To-day you may see the largest ironclads afloat there. This gigantic enterprise cost no less than 10,300,000.

"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 Tassaud’s a 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 Exchange—an elegant building in the Corinthian style—in front of which stands an equestrian statue of gigantic dimensions. It is Wellington—the 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 following manner:

"‘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 the persecutors:

"They’ll 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 Glasgow—I 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 town.

"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 wou’d frae mony a blunder free us."


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