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Nether Lochaber
Chapter VI

Severe Drought—The Drive by Coach from Fort-William to Kingussie— Breakfast at Moy— Where did Scott find Dominie Sampson's "Pro-di-gi-ous!"?—Professor Blackie's Poem on Glencoe.

That the people of Lochaber and the Western Isles should he rejoicing in the advent of heavy rains [August 1869], and seriously glad at the reappearance of clouds in the heavens and mists upon the mountain tops, may seem odd enough to those who know anything of our usual meteorological characteristics ; yet true it is, and of a verity that so it is, for here, as elsewhere, the heat was for many consecutive weeks intense, and the parching drought and fierce glare of a summer's sun from a constantly unclouded sky well nigh unbearable by man or beast, whether in the sheltered valley, where for days and days no breath of air shook the tiniest leaflet or ruffled the surface of the sullen tarn, or on the upland moor, where, if breath of air there was, it was hot and stifling as the breath of a furnace. Were it not for the occasional sea breezes, that sometimes of an evening swept over the almost pulseless deep, and copious falls of blessed night-dews, we should have been badly off indeed. But, as matters have turned out, we have much reason to be thankful, for if our crops are not quite so heavy as in average years, they are at least of excellent quality, and being ripe sooner than usual, we have a chance of getting them secured in a condition that will add immensely to their value. So thorough and persistent was the drought even with us, that springs failed that never before were known to refuse their waters to the thirsty; and water-courses that heretofore, even in the driest years, still presented shady pools connected by purling rivulets, w6re for weeks together arid and waterless as the course of an ancient lava stream. As you wandered among the hills you could set your fusee alight on a stone in a torrent bed over which in ordinary summers rolls a volume of foaming waters. The demand for beer wherever you went was in these circumstances something wonderful; and at times, on the arrival of coach or steamer with its load of panting tourists, the bawling from husky throats for a supply—an instant and copious supply—of the delicious liquid was sufficiently amusing. One of the happiest illustrations of the proverbial close treading of the ridiculous on the heels of the sublime, and the wafer-like thinness of the partition that divides the sentimental from the absurd, was Dr. Johnson's celebrated parody on the quasi-sentimental style of poetry so much in vogue in his latter years—and sooth to say too much in vogue in our day as well—a style as unlike the school of Pope as you can well imagine, and the very antipodes of the sturdily masculine and didactic strains which Johnson, an intellectual giant—for there were giants in these days—alone accounted true poetry:—

"Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening grey,
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell
What is bliss? and which the way?

''Thus I spoke; and speaking sighed;
Scarce repressed the starting tear;
When the smiling sage replied,—
' Come, my lad, and drink some beer!' "

And very well hit off, you will confess ; an arrow shot from an Ulysses' bow at the puling whimperers of a namby-pamby senti-mentalism that they miscalled poetry ; but if Ave dared for the nonce to take these lines in a more serious and literal sense than their author intended, we should say that in such hot and parching weather as we have recently had, and are still having, there is more "bliss" in a good draught of "Allsopp" or "Bass" than is dreamt of in the philosophy of the sentimentalists, and thousands upon thousands of this season's tourists are ready, we'll be bound, to homologate this statement.

It was Dr. Johnson, too, if we remember well, who spoke loudly and dogmatically, as was his wont, of the delightful feeling that one has in being rapidly whirled along a good road in a post-chaise; and remembering the unsteadiness of the " Rambler " on his pins, and his unwieldy corporation, one can readily understand that he found the means of locomotion referred to the easiest and most enjoyable possible. Our own experience of post-chaises has, sooth to say, been somewhat of the slightest, but in lieu thereof we would recommend a well-appointed public coach, with sound, well-eared-for horses, a steady and obliging driver and guard, good roads under foot, and a bright sky above all; and such a conveyance we on a recent occasion found the mail-eoacli between Fort-William and Kingussie to be; and such a driver and guard, the two in one, is the renowned " Davie Jack," who knows his work, and does it too, in a style that reminds one of the old " Defiance " in its palmiest days ; while the weather, if anything, was too fine, too bright and cloudless—the best fault it could have, however, since it is impossible that the weather on any particular day should be faultless, any more than that any human being should be perfect. Nothing, indeed, can be finer than the drive through Lochaber and Badenoch to Kingussie, except perhaps the drive back again. With mountain scenery on all hands, unsurpassed even in the Highlands for wild, and savage, and solitary grandeur; with foaming torrents dashing down the steeps, torrents that at a distance and at this season look like so many threads of purest silver constantly being absorbed and inwefted with the river, that, with a voice more hushed, and a quieter, kindlier step, still gladdens and fertilises the valley as it seeks the sea ; with loch and river scenery the most attractive and lovely; and all, in short, that yon can reasonably look for of the grand or beautiful from the sea coast- to the central Highlands. With all this, and the redoubted "Davie" to handle the ribbons, as only "Davie" can handle them—said "Davie" the while as full of aneedote, and joke, and local tradition as an egg is full of meat—with all this we say, and much more that might be mentioned, the man who cannot enjoy such a journey at this season is little to be envied; for, be his other qualities and qualifications what they may, his non-enjoyment of such a drive clearly proves one of two things,—either he is physically unwell, and out of sorts, and had better stay at home; or, aesthetically, he has no eye for, and no appreciation of, some of the most splendid scenery in the Highlands, and in that ease is less to be blamed than pitied. Even in winter we should say that this was the readiest, as well as the most pleasant, line of intercommunication between the north-western Highlands and the south. It were, finally, unpardonable in us, who enjoyed it so much, not to mention the very excellent breakfast on the up-journey, and the equally excellent and substantial "tea," or tea-dinner rather, on returning, to be had in the shepherd's house at Moy. It may seem unromantic and prosaic to say so, but it is a fact nevertheless, that one's appreciation of the sublime and beautiful—let Mr. Edmund Burke say what he likes —is not a little enhanced by a due supply of creature comforts pari passu. If one eannot carry the comforts of home about with him, any more than honest Bailie Nieol Jarvie could carry about with him the comforts of the "Sautmarket," it is no small matter to meet with good cheer, off a snow-white cloth, with the attentions of a smart, intelligent serving girl, in odd and out-of-the-way places, where you least expect it. Altogether, a trip by the Fort-William and Kingussie mail-coaeh during the present fine weather is very enjoyable indeed—superior, upon the whole, we should say, to the "Rambler's" post-chaise, not forgetting that the latter is a solitary and somewhat surly sort of business, whereas in the former you have the chance of pleasant and agreeable companionship, in addition to its other attractions.

For one to make a discovery, and to think that oneself has made a discovery, are two widely different things. We readily acknowledge the distinction. That we have made a discovery we shall not venture to affirm, but we think we have. Our discovery, if discovery it be, is this, that Sir Walter Scott is indebted for Dominie Sampson's "prodigious!" to Boswell's Life of Johnson. Who can think of the worthy, kind-hearted, most unsophisticated, and withal most learned, albeit life-long kirkless parson, without instantly recalling his favourite exclamation of "Pro-di-gi-ous!" he stumbled on our discovery in this wise :—A few evenings ago we were reading the third volume of a very fine edition of Boswell's "Johnson," kindly placed at our disposal by Lady Riddell of Strontian—and a good edition of a good book is no small matter to one so far removed from libraries as we are—when we came to a page that described Johnson's meeting with a gentleman who had been his companion at Pembroke College, Oxford, some fifty years previously. Mr. Edwards, for that was the gentleman's name, and Boswell accompanied Johnson home, where, in course of conversation, Mr J Edwards said, addressing Johnson, "Sir, I remember you would not let us say prodigious at college. For even then, sir (turning to Boswell), he was delicate in language, and we all feared him." Now, can any one doubt that it was having his attention particularly called to the word in this passage that made Scott first ponder the absurdity of using a word of such volume and import on every trifling occasion, and caused him, possibly at a long subsequent date (for Scott's memory, as we know, was prodigiously retentive—there the word, you will observe, is pat and appropriate enough—prodigiously retentive, Ave say, of words, phrases, and odd turns of expression)—to put it so frequently as an exclamation of unspeakable, indescribable import into the mouth of honest Sampson, whom you can no more help laughing at, at times, than you can loving him with all your heart always! The matter, after all, may seem a trifle, and it is a trifle, but such trifles are dear to the lovers of literature. Were Boswell in the flesh subsequent to the publication of Guy Mannering, and had his attention drawn to such a matter, slight as it seems, what a delightful chapter of gossip he could write about it, with fresh reminiscences of his long and intimate intercourse with his "illustrious friend," for whom till his dying day he cherished so much veneration and awe, evermore mingled with most pardonable pride that he knew him as no one else knew him, and loved him as no one else loved him, or perhaps could love him.

We have just been reading our friend Professor Blackie's poem on "Glencoe." The manner in which he "goes at" his subject, to use a sporting phrase, the life, and vigour, and swing, and fervour of the whole, is most refreshing in these days of poetical (save the mark!) namby-pambyisms, and eminently characteristic of the learned Professor when at his best. Here you have him, like a knight of the Middle Ages, high in his stirrups, with lance in rest, "Dh'aindeoin co theireadh e!" blazing on his shield, and who shall dare to stop his fierce career against the perpetrators of the foulest deed on record 1 Less polished and less artistic than Aytoun's "Widow of Glencoe," it is, nevertheless, the better poem, on such a subject, of the two. Its very ruggedness and stem headlong force are its chief charm, they best befit the theme. Blackie is terribly in earnest; with Aytoun you cannot help feeling it was a mere matter of sentiment and no more.

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