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John Thomson of Duddingston, Pastor and Painter
Chapter VI


1813—1834

Sketching Excursions—Inverness, Moray, Arran, Kintyre, Skye—The Blair-Adam or ‘Macduff’ Club—Its Origin—Annual Outings—Scott’s Journal—Loch Leven, etc.—’John Thomson’s delightful flute‘—Falkiand Palace—Culross—A Sunday at Lochore—’Let off’—’ No Sermon ‘—Reminiscences—Cassillis House—The Hereditary Gardener of the Earl of Monteith—Thomson at Abbotsford—The Bannatyne Club—Thomas Thomson and the Acts of the Scottish Parliament—Club Suppers—Characteristics—Lord Cockburn’s opinion of Thomas Thomson—Death of Sir Walter Scott—Visit to Sir David Brewster—Badenoch.

THROUGHOUT his life, and more particularly after his settlement at Duddingston, Thomson visited the greater part of Scotland in search of subjects for his easel; and when we consider that he pro. ceded the days of railways and saloon steamers, his excursions, especially into some of the wilder and more inaccessible parts of the country, must have been attended with much risk and fatigue, not to speak of expense. North and south, east and west, he ransacked the coasts and the interior, and were his landscapes now to be brought together in one collection, they would form a most unique exhibition of the castles and strongholds of Scotland. He also paid one or two visits to the Lake District of England, the North of Ireland, and Wales.

Frequently he made these excursions alone, but more frequently—for he was an essentially social man—he had a companion. The pity is, he has left us no record of his wanderings beyond what may be seen on the page of his glowing canvas.

Of Thomson as of Turner, the absence of diary or correspondence leaves us with little material for narrative. Anything of the kind would have been full of interest for us now. But the ‘pen of the ready writer’ was not theirs, and we must look to what they did with the pencil and brush to fill up the blank.

Turning then to the catalogue of Thomson’s exhibited works, and glancing over the long list of these, we may form some estimate of the area covered, of the time and locality of his peregrinations during the thirty-two years of his active artist life after lie settled at Duddingston. It is true only a small proportion of his works were exhibited publicly, but probably the most important were those which he showed in Edinburgh in connection with the Royal Institution and the Royal Scottish Academy. During the first ten years (viz, from 1806 to 1816) these seem to indicate that he did not go far from the neighbourhood of the manse for subjects for his pencil. A few of his pictures during this period are subjects drawn from Lanarkshire and Haddingtonshire scenery. There are some from the English Lake district, and at least one picture exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1813, ‘View in the Highlands of Scotland,’ indicates his having invaded the country of the Gaol. There are also some from Ayrshire, but these may probably be merely reminiscences of his early sketches, though there is no evidence that he did not return to his native county for fresh subjects during these years. But, in addition to these, a considerable number of his early works are taken from the neighbourhood of Duddingston.

More than once Sir Walter Scott refers to Thomson’s work at this period in his correspondence with the accomplished Marchioness of Abercorn, in whose well-wooded ‘policy’ or park adjoining the manse the artist found many good subjects.

Thomson painted a large gallery picture in 1813 of Duddingston House for Lady Abercorn, who was then at the Irish residence of the family, Barons Court, and Scott was so interested in the progress of the picture that, on the occasion of the hurried visit of her son-in-law, Lord Aberdeen, to Edinburgh, he did his best to get him to defer his departure till he had seen it. He wrote her ladyship as follows:—

‘8th January 1813.—I have been a great vagabond during the autumn, and since then have been hard at work at my new poem (Rokeby), which, with official duty since November, has made me a complete slave. I saw Lord Aberdeen for literally a moment in the midst of the bustle of the Peers’ election at Holyrood. . . I wished he could have stayed a day to look at the painting of Duddingston, etc., by Thomson, but I could not prevail with him.’

Whether it is to this same picture that Sir Walter refers in another letter written to her ladyship on 15th February 1815 is not quite clear. The probability is that it was a fresh commission upon which he was working. ‘I spoke,’ he says, ‘to Mr. Thomson about the picture. He did not like it, it seems, and is doing another. I wish he may be as successful as in one he presented me with, which is really, and without any allowance being required, a very fine thing indeed. It is a view of Crichton Castle, near Edinburgh, once a favourite haunt of mine, but not slavishly correct as to surrounding landscape.’ Sir Walter has for ever immortalised the old Castle in Marmion—

‘For there the Lion’s care assigned
A lodging meet for
Marmion’s rank.
That Castle
rises on the steep
Of the green vale of Tyne:
And far beneath,
where slow they creep,
From pool to eddy, dark and deep,
Where alders moist, and willows weep,

You hear her streams repine.’

It was a favourite subject with Thomson, being often painted by him, in oil and water-colour; while both Sir Walter and John Thomson gave their united efforts in pen and pencil to illustrate its scenery in the Provincial Antiquities of Scotland.

In 1822 and 1824 the wild Haddington and Berwickshire coast claimed a good deal of his attention, and to this period belong his ‘Fast Castle,’ ‘Dun-bar Castle,’ and ‘Aberlady Bay.’ In 1826 the splendid scenery of Loch Katrine, Loch Lomond, and Loch Awe formed the subject of some of his many exhibits in the following spring.

In 1827 Dumfriesshire and the wild country of the highlands of Kirkcudbright were explored, and yielded to his easel his fine pictures of ‘Morton Castle,’ ‘Torthorwald Castle,’ and the ‘Martyrs’ Tombs,’ in the romantic region of Lochinkett, a district which Samuel Rutherford Crockett has since further immortalised in The Raiders, The Lilac Sunbonnet, and The Grey Man.

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 year’s Exhibition in Edinburgh. On his sketching excursions to Tweedside and Yarrow he was generally the welcome guest of Sir Walter Scott and the Ettrick Shepherd.

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 excellent people.

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 Donaldson’s 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 o’clock—

‘Spent that evening very pleasantly in the Castle and about the grounds. Returned to the Castle next morning, and stayed till about twelve o’clock. 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 o’clock. 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 o’clock, 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. . . . Thomson’s 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 "Pict’s 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 o’clock. 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 o’clock, 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 evening’s 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. —W. B.]

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 ‘Caerphilly Castle.’

Thomson appears to have made a sketching tour in 1836 in that happy hunting-ground of Scottish artists—the 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 Art.

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 Walter’s 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 Commissioner’s 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 Macduff’s Cross; 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 Thomson’s 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 few extracts:-

‘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 Shepherd—all 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 o’clock 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. Serf’s Island. We landed on Queen Mary’s Island—a 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 artist’s 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 Thomson improved the opportunities which visits to such romantic scenes afforded, and transferred to his sketch-book some useful memoranda for after use.

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 Thomson’s delightful flute.’

In June of the following year—1829—the Blair-Adam Club celebrated its twelfth annual meeting by a series of excursions and dinners extending over four days, and though Sir Walter’s 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 off—the two Thomsons and I—for 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 "Christ’s 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 Thomson’s 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,’ Scott’s entry concludes, ‘much mirth and good wine made us return in capital tune.’ Thus ended this Saturday’s excursion.

On the Monday following, Sir Walter, with Thomas and John Thomson, returned to Edinburgh to resume their professional harness.

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 latter’s ample topographical knowledge being frequently of service to him in descriptions of places for his novels. Sir Walter’s 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 recorded.

‘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,

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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 Walter’s ‘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 succession"!’

Though Thomson was fully seven years Scott’s 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 Thomson’s 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 Scott’s 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 Thomson’s 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 Hamilton’s Entry many years before.

Here is one instance mentioned by Scott:-

‘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 pleasant.’

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 an undertaking.’

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 Statutes 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 Thomson’s 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 brother’s 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 Thomson’s suppers, speaks with rapture of Scott’s 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 or ill-natured.’

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. Scott’s 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 composition.’

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 Ossian’s 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 (Brewster’s daughter), ‘had the wild grandeur of the scene, and the sense of the one creative hand, possessed the soul of the artist.’ He was completely overcome.

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 Academy’s 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.

When at Belleville he painted a view of the house and grounds which still adorns the walls of the mansion; while several of the neighbouring gentry gave him commissions for pictures of Grampian scenery. If we are not much mistaken, it was to this visit to Strathspey we are indebted for the several fine pictures of bold rocky, river subjects from the Findhorn, of which the ‘Pulpit on the Findhorn’ is a fair example.


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