Thomson evidently visited Inverness
and Morayshire in 1828, besides making flying visits to the Yarrow and
Tweed, and even to North Wales, where he painted Conway Castle for next
years Exhibition in Edinburgh. On his sketching excursions to Tweedside
and Yarrow he was generally the welcome guest of Sir Walter Scott and the
In the spring of 1831, in company
with Professor Playfair and Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Thomson made a very
happy excursion through Aberdeen, Banfl and Inverness for two or three
weeks. Some particulars of this outing are given by Sir Thomas in letters
to his wife, extracts from which
furnish us with interesting little glimpses of holiday travelling in
Scotland before the advent of the railway and the steamboat. Sir Thomas
Dick Lauder, the author of a book on the Morayshire Floods of 1829, The
Wolf of Badenoch, Highland Legends, etc., and the proprietor of
estates in Edinburgh and the North, was well known among the aristocracy,
and the party had thus the entrée to many of the mansions and
castles of Scotland. The excursion thus brought Thomson into personal
touch with much of the loveliest scenery of the North, and with many
In the first of the series of letters referred to
(13th May 1831) Sir Thomas says
I am arranging to leave town for
the North with Playfair and Thomson. I have just this moment returned from
Duddingston, where the expedition was fixed. . . . Thomson to bring all
manner of paints and sketching materials, and also his flute. He gave me
the beautiful picture of the Bass he promised me, and I have just been at
Donaldsons ordering a frame for it.
Three days later he says
We have not yet finally fixed our
plans, but I think we shall probably go through Fife to Glamis Castle,
then to Dunnottar Castle, and so on.
And again, he was at the manse on
Wednesday the 18th May, and had delightful music and a pleasant party.
The three friends appear to have left Edinburgh on Monday, 23rd May, in
the early morning, for the North, for they reached Glamis in Forfar that
day at one oclock
Spent that evening very pleasantly
in the Castle and about the grounds. Returned to the Castle next morning,
and stayed till about twelve oclock. Got to Forfar in a chaise, were then
taken up by the "Defence," driven by Captain Barclay himself. Got
comfortably to Stone-haven on Tuesday evening about a quarter past six
oclock. Went to Dunnottar Castle and gave it a thorough inspection, and
returned to it yesterday (25th) morning, and spent the whole day there
till the "Defence" coach again came up and we mounted and came on to
Aberdeen. I found a letter lying here (Aberdeen) for me from Robert Grant
of Monymusk in answer to one I wrote to him from Edinburgh. He gives us a
most hospitable welcome, so that we start at eleven oclock, after
breakfast, by a Donside coach, which puts us down within three or four
miles of his door. By this visit we shall be able, I hope, to kill off
Castle Fraser, and perhaps Kildrummie and Craigievar and even Drum; and
then our plan is to get to Turriff, and so to Fyvie, Banff, Trouphead,
Portsoy and Boyne Castle, Cullen and Findochtie and Deskford Castles, so
that we cannot hope to be with you sooner than the middle of next week. .
. . Thomsons time is short, but I must prevail on him to write to
Edinburgh to get it extended.
This letter is addressed (from Aberdeen, 26th May)
to Lady Dick Lauder, Relugas, Forres, and being on their way thither, and
time pressing, he says
Pray see and get Mr. Wilson to have
a lad ready to drive us about with a pair of horses, as we might have
occasion for them during the short stay of my two friends.
From Monymusk on Sunday the 29th May he writes
We got here safe on Thursday, and
were kindly received by the hospitable landlord and landlady of this
mansion. Met Colonel Guern of Clugny at dinner. On Friday we walked up to
the old castle of Pitfichie, and viewed some of the scenery of the Don,
which is much better here than anywhere else. Drove to call at Castle
Fraser; saw Mrs. Fraser, the Colonel being still in London. Drove thence
to Clugny Castle, but did not find its owner at home. Yesterday we had a
post-chaise, and went all the way to Kildrummie to breakfast. Saw what is
called a "Picts house
on the moor, visited the old church,
and then drove to Craigievar, which is out of sight the most interesting
old house I ever was in. We got home here last night to a late dinner at
ten oclock. I go to the English chapel after breakfast, and when it comes
out I have ordered the chaise to take me (if it can be overtaken) to
Correekie, Drum, and Midmar; at all events I shall walk to Correckie,
seven miles off. To-morrow we leave this by six oclock, and get to Old
Meldrum in time to catch the "Earl of Fife" coach so as to get on to Fyvie.
There we shall be all night, and shall get on next day to Turriff. And if
Thomson should show any desire to go to Trouphead, we shall take a chaise
and go round by that bend, so along the coast to Banff, where we shall
remain Tuesday night, so as to catch the "Earl of Fife" on Wednesday,
which will take us to Portsoy on Thursday, and there we shall see Boyne
Castle, Findochtie Castle, and if possible Deskford, and get to Cullen on
Friday, so as to 1)0 home on Saturday night by the "Earl of Fife" to
Fochabers and the mail from thence. But should we
not make the
Trouphead deviation, I am not without hopes we may get to Forres by
Wednesday evenings mail.
Being persuaded, however, to remain
another day at Monymusk, the party did not reach Relugas till Friday,
where they were doubtless received with open arms by Lady Lauder and all
the bairns. Thomson resided with the Lauders at Relugas until the middle
of June, sketching on the Findhorn and the neighbouring wild streams of
that picturesque district. [These extracts are from original letters shown
to me by the late Miss C. Dick Lander, daughter of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder.
We have no evidence of Thomson being
in the Island of Arran previous to 1832, which is rather remarkable, as
its glittering mountain-peaks must have been often in his view from the
Ayrshire coast, or from the high-lying grounds of his native parish
glimpses which might have tempted him, one would think, to explore its
deep wild glens. But some time before 1833 he had evidently been there,
for he exhibited in that year his fine picture of Glen Sannox.
It was in the summer of 1834, as we
shall afterwards see, that lie again visited Inverness-shire: this time it
was the district of Badenoch, at the base of the Cairngorm mountains,
which inspired his pencil. The grandeur of its mountain masses, its dark
corries and rugged glens, its lonely lakes and old frowning castles, the
majestic Spey, with its steep banks crowned with the dark Scotch pine and
the feathery birch, captivated his fancy, and led to the production of
several pictures of great merit.
In all probability it was in this or
the following year he made a short excursion into South Wales, and painted
Thomson appears to have made a
sketching tour in
1836 in that happy hunting-ground of Scottish
artiststhe Mull of Kintyre, where rock-bound coast, umbrageous wood, and
snug little fishing-coves are so happily blended with lovely peeps of
distant mountain-peaks, rising on all sides round the Firth of Clyde.
It must have been in the same year
he managed to reach the then almost inaccessible shores of the Island of
Skye, and painted those magnificent pictures of Loch Coruiskin, Loch
Scavaig, Eilandonan Castle on Loch Duich, in the district of Kintail,
Carron Castle, and many others in the west of Ross-shire, in which the
free open space of the wild mountain ranges is so beautifully rendered.
But his excursions were not always
undertaken in the pursuit of subjects for his pencil; not unfrequently
they were of a social and convivial nature, as well as for the purposes of
As a member of the celebrated
Blair-Adam Club, John Thomson, along with Walter Scott and others, spent
annually a few days as companions in country excursions in Fife, Kinross,
and Clackmannanshire, of which we have some interesting reminiscences in
Sir Walters Journal. The origin of the club was peculiar, and the
bond of union that united its members was only severed at last by death.
The Right Honourable William Adam
was appointed in 1815 to
the Presidency of the Court for Jury
Trial in Civil Cases, then instituted in Scotland, and lie henceforth
spent a great part of his time at his paternal seat in Kinross-shire.
Here, about midsummer 1816, he received a visit from his near relation
William Clerk, Adam Ferguson, his hereditary friend and special favourite,
and their lifelong intimate, Walter Scott. They remained with him for two
or three days, in the course of which they were all so much delighted with
their host amid he with them, that it was resolved to reassemble the
party, with a few additions, at the same season of every following year.
The Blair-Adam Club, thus formed, consisted of nine regular members, viz,
the four already named; the Chief Commissioners son, Admiral Sir Charles
Adam; his son-in-law, Mr. Anstruther Thomson of Charleton; Mr. Thomas
Thomson, the Deputy-Register of Scotland; his brother, the Rev. John
Thomson, Minister of Duddingston; and Sir Samuel Shepherd, sometime
Attorney-General in England, and afterwards Chief Baron of the Court of
Exchequer in Scotland.
They usually contrived to meet on a
Friday; spent the Saturday in a ride to some scene of historical interest
within easy distance; enjoyed a quiet Sunday at home duly attending
divine worship at the Kirk of Cleish -gave Monday morning to another
antiquarian excursion, and returned to Edinburgh in time for the Courts of
Tuesday. From 1816 to 1831 inclusive, says Lockhart, Sir Walter was a
constant attendant at these meetings, and the club visited in succession
such places as Castle Campbell, Magus Moor, Falkiand, Dunfermline, St.
Andrews, Loch Leven, and many other scenes of ancient celebrity. To one
of these trips, says he, we must ascribe his dramatic sketch of
and to that of the dog days of 1819 we owe the
weightier obligation of The Abbot, which was published in 1820.
Occasionally it is designated the Macduff Club by Lockhart, who, in
referring to Thomsons connection with it, speaks of him as a most
diligent parish priest, but who has found leisure to make himself one of
the first masters of the British School of landscape painting.
John Thomson seems rarely to have
lost an opportunity of forming one of this annual outing of friends, and
in the Journal of Scott the references to the club are frequent and
genial, giving us delightful little glimpses of their trips. Here are a
June 27, 1828.I came out after
Court to Blair-Adam with our excellent friend the Rev. John Thomson of
Duddingston; a delightful drive and passage at the Ferry. We found at
Blair-Adam the Chief Commissioner and family, Admiral Adam and Lady, James
Thomson of Charleton, and Miss Thomson, Will Clerk, and last, not least,
Lord Chief Baron Shepherdall in high spirits for our excursion.
June 28.Off we go to Castle
Campbell after breakfast; i.e. Will Clerk, Admiral Adam, John
Thomson, and myself. Tremendous hot is the day; and the steep ascent of
the Castle, which rises for two miles up a rugged, broken path, was
fatiguing enough, yet not so much 80 as the streets of London.
June 29.Being Sunday, we kept
about the doors, and after two oclock took the drosky and drove over the
hill and round the Kiery Craigs.
June 30.We made our pleasant
excursion to-day round the hill of Bennarty
par terre, and returned par flier.
Our route by the land led us past Lochore, Ballingray, and so by Kirkness
down to the shores of Loch Leven. We embarked and went upon St. Serfs
Island. We landed on Queen Marys Islanda miserable scene considering the
purpose for which the castle was appointed.
To the romancer and the artist of
the party such scenes would doubtless afford different trains of thought.
Scott, his mind stored with traditions of the past, would view the ruined
cell and castle in their human aspect; while Thomson, with the artists
eye, would revel in the ruins and their surrounding verdure as fitting
subjects for his pencil.
If the Island of St. Serf, taking us
away back to the sixth century, with its early Culdee Mission from Iona,
has been practically overlooked and forgotten, the other island, with its
purely secular, but equally romantic, associations connected with the
imprisonment of the hapless Queen Mary, roused the creative fancy of the
poet, who in the pages of The Abbot has infused a deeper tone of
feeling into the history of her captivity and escape.
There can be little doubt but that
the opportunities which visits to such romantic scenes
afforded, and transferred to his sketch-book some useful memoranda for
The evening of this day
was spent at
Blair-Adam in the greatest hilarity; the enjoyment of the company, as we
have already indicated, being not a little enhanced by what Sir Walter
Scott calls John Thomsons delightful flute.
In June of the following
year1829the Blair-Adam Club celebrated its twelfth annual meeting by a
series of excursions and dinners extending over four days, and though Sir
Walters health was considerably impaired at this time by the excessive
over-work which he imposed upon himself in his honourable endeavour to
meet his obligations in full, he seems to have enjoyed these outings with
his wonted juvenility of spirit.
June 26, 1829.After the Court, we
set offthe two Thomsons and Ifor Blair-Adam, where we held our Macduff
Club for the twelfth anniversary. We met the Chief Baron, Lord Sydney
Osborne, Will Clerk, the merry knight Sir Adam Ferguson, with our
venerable host the Lord Chief Commissioner, and merry men were we!
Jutie 27.The morning proving
delightful, we set out for the object of the day, which was Falkland. We
passed through Lochore, but without stopping, . . . also we went through
Leslie, and saw what remains of the celebrated rendezvous of rustic
gallantry called "Christs Kirk on the Green."
A visit to the ancient palace of
Falkland seems to have given the antiquarian tastes of the party the
utmost satisfaction; and if its neglected grandeur as the residence of the
Stuart Kings pleased Sir Walter, and
drew from him the remark that a ruin should be
protected, but never repaired, we may be sure its gloomy, massive towers
would find themselves transferred to John Thomsons pocket-book for after
use in some bright canvas.
The party having dined at Weilfield
with George (Jheape, an old cavalry comrade of thirty years previous,
Scotts entry concludes, much mirth
and good wine made us return in capital tune.
Thus ended this Saturdays excursion.
On the Monday following, Sir Walter,
with Thomas and John Thomson, returned to Edinburgh to resume their
On the 18th June 1880, John Thomson
and Sir Walter Scott again find themselves the guests of Chief
Commissioner Adam at Blair-Adam, but Thomas Thomson appears not to have
been of the party on this occasion.
The following day was spent in an
excursion to Culross, to visit the ancient Priory, which at the time was
being rebuilt by the proprietor as a family residence.
The next day thereafter being
Sunday, we settled to go to church at Lochore, that is at Ballingray, but
when we came to the earthly paradise, so called, we were let
off, for there was
no sermon, for which I could not in my heart be sorry. So, after looking
at Lochore, back we came to lounge and loiter about till dinner-time. The
rest of the day was good company, good cheer, and good conversation.
In other passages Scott refers to
the pleasure it gave him to have personal intercourse with Mr. Thomson,
the latters ample topographical knowledge being frequently of service to
him in descriptions of places for his novels. Sir Walters aphorism, Give
me facts, and I will find fancy for myself, has a fitting illustration in
one or two such conversations during these summer excursions which he has
Thomson described to me, says
Scott, a fine dungeon at Cassillis in Ayrshire. There is an outer and
inner vaulted chamber, each secured by iron doors. At the upper end of the
innermost are two great stones, or blocks, to which the staples and chains
used in securing the prisoners are still attached. Between these stone
seats is an opening like the mouth of a still deeper dungeon. The entrance
descends like the mouth of a draw-well, or shaft of a mine, and deep below
is heard the sullen roar of the river Doon,
Restoration Home - S03E05 -
Kate Armstrong purchsed Cassillis House in Ayrshire as she always had
the dream of owning a castle and she picked one that was in a desperate
condition. A four year struggle then started to restore 110 rooms.
one branch of which, passing through
the bottom of the shaft, has probably swept away the body of many a
captive, whose body after death may have been thus summarily disposed of.
I may find use for such a place.
Thomson was well acquainted with the
rugged Ayrshire coast, with its crumbling castles of Greenan, Dunure, and
Turnberry. The classic Doon and Girvan Water were no less acquainted with
his footsteps; but in this
description we cannot help thinking that Sir Walters fancy made more of
the stronghold of the Kennedys than facts actually warranted.
Scott on another occasion seems to
have immensely enjoyed a story told by Thomson, illustrating Highland
ideas of hereditary descent. A clergyman who showed the artist over the
island of Inchmahome, on the Port of Monteith, where he happened to be
sketching, pointed the boatman out to him as a remarkable person, the
representative of the hereditary gardeners of the Earls of Monteith, while
these Earls existed. His son, a priggish boy, follows up the theme: "Feyther,
when Donald MacCorkindale dees, will na the family be extinct?"
Father"No; I believe there is a man in Balquhidder wha takes up the
Though Thomson was fully seven years
Scotts junior, as time wore on this disparity of ages (no doubt very
considerable in their early years) had almost entirely worn off, and in
1880, when Thomson was on a visit to Abbotsford, we find Scott saying of
him, we took the same old persons for subjects of correspondence, of
feeling, and sentiment. The difference of ten years is little,
after sixty. (Journal.) Scott evidently was under the impression
that Thomson was a younger man than he really was, or he would not have
made this mistake.
On another occasion, at Abbotsford,
when Thomson was one of a small party of friends to dinner, Scott speaks
of having a pleasant evening, as such a handful always secures.
The dinners of the Bannatyne Club,
of which Scott was the founder and first president, and Thomas Thomson
vice-president, brought a congenial circle of friends frequently together
in Edinburgh, and at these Scott presided from 1823 to 1831. In the
affairs of the club Scott took a most active part. The books published by
it constitute a very curious and valuable library of Scottish history and
antiquities; and the example has been followed by many others, such as the
Maitland, the Abbotsford, the Spalding, the Grampian Clubs, and the
Scottish History Society.
Scott was ably seconded in this work
by Thomas Thomson, John Thomsons elder brother, who, as an antiquarian
lawyer, was unsurpassed in his day, and was the first to bring the mass of
State papers and Acts of the Scottish Parliament, lying in the Register
House, Edinburgh, into some kind of order and method. His appointment in
1806 to the charge of the Register Office as Deputy-Clerk Register made
him a most invaluable ally to Scott, for it was largely through Thomas
Thomson that Scott became acquainted with many old, forgotten, and
out-of-the-way incidents in Scottish history which he turned to good
account in his Novels and his Tales of a Grandfather. Throughout
all Sir Walter Scotts works, while there may be mistakes as to historical
facts, there is a very remarkable accuracy of historical tone. As one
writer puts it, He might be wrong in dates and names, and the sequence of
occurrences, but he was ever accurate in painting the manners and temper
of the times, and giving their true character to events. And we believe we
will be borne out by those who have had the best means of knowing it, when
we say that he owed this accuracy in a great measure to the instructing
and regulating influence of Thomsons mind. It was a mind not given to
the development of mere separate details, but to careful digesting and
arrangement so as to evolve clear, orderly, and simple results. Scott ever
speaks of him in the kindliest terms, and in one of his letters says, He
understands more of old books, old laws, and old history than any man in
Scotland. Their evenings together over such subjects were frequently
shared in by the minister of Duddingston, who, if he did not profess to be
an authority on such subjects, was at all events as good a listener as
when they occupied the lodgings in Hamiltons Entry many years before.
Here is one instance mentioned by
8 July 1826. This evening
supped with Thomas Thomson about affairs of the Bannatyne Club. There were
present the Dean, Will Clerk, John Thomson, young Smythe of Methven; very
And in entering up his Journal next day, as
if he had not said enough about it, he continues:
There are people who would confine
the Club much to one party; but those who were together last night saw it
in the true and liberal point of view as a great historical institution,
which may do much good in the way of publishing our old records, providing
we do not fall into the usual habit of antiquaries, and neglect what is
useful for things that are only curious. Thomas Thomson is a host for such
Thomas Thomson was indeed in many
respects a remarkable man; a man who, but for what Lord Cockburn tersely
calls some silly habits, ought to have been a great counsel and a great
judge. Among these silly habits he could not be charged with laziness
or indolence, for he was always busy; but he had, unfortunately, an
inveterate habit of delaying the completion of anything he had on hand,
combined with a too fastidious taste. His edition of the Scottish
is a great national work, with which his name will ever
be honourably associated; but it was a bitter disappointment to him that
he was not permitted to finish it. Over-fastidiousness on his part as to
publication of the first and most important volume after the issue of the
bulkier part of the work, for which he had reserved his deepest historical
views, caused official impatience to interfere, and the Government at
length, getting wearied with repeated delays, took it out of his hands.
Lord Cockburn, one of his intimate
friends, speaks of Thomas Thomsons bachelor suppers as great intellectual
feasts. They were always held, says he, in his admirable library, and
were the habitual resort of the best Edinburgh people. With good wine and
exquisite punch, plenty of business for dignity, and never in want of
leisure for friends, he had all the elements of luxurious private society.
Night was then his day; his house seemed never dark; his library lamp was
always out watching the Bear. No castaway friend ever failed to have that
Pharos of hospitality to steer upon (Journal, vol. ii. p. 285).
This remarkable man outlived many of his contemporaries. He died in
October 1852 at the venerable age of eighty-three, surviving his younger
brother John by fully twelve years, and enjoying to the last the respect
of all classes, and especially of the legal profession.
To what extent the minister of
Duddingston participated in his brothers hospitality we cannot pretend to
say. The friendships formed and sustained by intercourse with such men as
were in the habit of frequenting his house must have been wide and varied.
Lord Cockburn, who was one of the circle, and often shared with Scott in
the gaiety of Thomsons suppers, speaks with rapture of Scotts
conversational powers on these occasions, of which he says no bad idea
could be formed by supposing one of his novels cut into talk. It
is not so much conversation as a joyous flow of anecdote, story,
character, and scene, mostly humorous, always graphic, and never personal
The death of Sir Walter Scott in
1832 brought to a close a long and happy, almost uninterrupted, period of
warmest friendship. John Thomson felt his loss with the utmost keenness,
and well he might. Their lifelong intercourse had been of the pleasantest;
without a jarring note. Scotts visits to him at Duddingston, and his to
Abbotsford, were occasions when Nature and Art found in both a common
subject for fellowship. Thomson was
frequently at Abbotsford in these latter years
of the great novelist, when he was slowly eating his heart away; when
family bereavements and pecuniary losses were alike heavy; and he was
writing novels at such a rate that, as he himself says, he had generally
written to the middle of one of these without having the least idea how it
was to end; in short, in a hab-nab-at-a-venture style of
Another eminent scholar who may be
named among the intimates of Thomson was the learned Principal of
Edinburgh University. For Sir David Brewster, as a scientist and as a man,
he had a warm affection. It was in 1833 that Sir David Brewster succeeded
to the beautiful Highland estate of Belleville, near Aviemore, in
Strathspey, where for several years thereafter he resided during the
summer. Here, in this sweet spot (associated as it is with his
father-in-law, James Macpherson, the translator of Ossians Poems,
who purchased the property and built an elegant mansion upon it, where he
died in 1796), Brewster spent some of his happiest years, and awakened
among his Highland tenantry a warm and abiding attachment for himself and
his family. His old friend, John Thomson, visited him there in 1834, and
fairly revelled in the glories of the Grampian scenery, with which the
district of Badenoch abounds. The beauties of the Doune, Kinrara, and
Aviemore, Loch-an-Eilan, Loch Insh, Loch Laggan, Craigdhu, the Forest of
Gaick, and the magnificent desolation of Glen Feshie were all vividly
enjoyed by both. Brewster, in whom existed a strong sense of poetry and
art, deeply sympathised with and recognised the same natural temperament
in Thomson. Many long walks over the hills and moors the two enjoyed
together. Among other places they visited was Glen Feshie, with its wild
corries and its rocky, brawling stream, overshadowed by the giants of the
old pine forest. It is a strangely impressive wilderness; to a poetic
imagination, full of mystery and awe. On one occasion as the two men paced
along amid its savage wildness few words passed between them. Here and
there they stopped to stand and wonder, but the grandeur of the scene was
too great for words, and the deepest reverence seemed to fill their souls.
In one of these pauses, after a profound silence, Sir David was startled
by the exclamation, Lord God Almighty! and on looking round he saw the
strong man bowed down in a flood of tears so much, says Mrs. Gordon
(Brewsters daughter), had the wild grandeur of the scene, and the sense
of the one creative hand, possessed the soul of the artist. He was
Thomson, as the result of his visit
to Strathspey, painted a number of pictures, representing views in the
district, many of which are of first-rate excellence. In the Royal
Scottish Academys Exhibition of 1835 and 1836 he exhibited pictures of
Glen Feshie, one of which, now in the possession of the Earl of Stair at
Oxenfoord, is perhaps his most successful attempt at Highland scenery. It
is a magnificent gallery picture, measuring five feet three inches by
three feet six inches, powerful in conception and execution, brilliant in
colour, and full of wonderful gradation of light and shade. It is, verily,
a poem on canvas.