James Johnson.

The recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides online

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extremity of the glassy lake, the ruins of Kilchurn Castle only serve to
mark, by comparison, the vast masses and altitudes of the circumjacent
mountains. The whole prospect, magnificent as it is, assumes a sombre,
melancholy appearance, and excites corresponding sensations in the
mind of the spectator probably from the absence of those traces of
man and his operations, which the vastness of the scene and, it must be
owned, their own sparseness, render nearly incognizable by the senses.
The solitary ferry-boat, crossing the lake from Port Sonachan to the
opposite bank, was the only moving object presented to our view, and
suggested the idea of Charon crossing the Styx, with a lighter cargo.

But honest Roanan had now overtaken us, and his docile and sub-
dued countenance clearly indicated that the load of grass and his
master's stern commands were completely digested. While replenishing
himself with a stock of breath on this airy eminence, Roanan still showed
that he had no sense of the sublime, and that the stupendous scenery
spread out before him attracted no part of his attention. But while
striding down the steep defiles of the mountain towards Loch Awe, I
am almost certain that he evinced classical recollection or reflection
and that he repeatedly quoted, in his own peculiar language, a celebrated
passage from Virgil, far more applicable to himself than to the per-
sonage for whom it was intended originally :

" facili.s descensus Averni,

Sed revocare graduin !

Hie labor 1 "

How poor Roanan may have dragged back his weary limbs over this
mountain, the same day, I have not learnt ; but should these lines ever
meet the eye of his portly master in Inverary, I beg for poor Roanan a
holiday or two. Of this I am certain, that he never travelled with three
more indulgent passengers than on this occasion ; for we walked at
least three-fourths of the journey to Dalmally.

In- the romantic valley of Glenorchy, we found a comfortable inn, and,
what might be hardly expected, a smart post-chaise, and two good horses.
During a most beautiful afternoon, we proceeded round the head of the
lake, and along a pass between the foot of Ben-Cruachan and Loch
Awe, which, in my humble opinion, is far superior to the more cele-
brated Pass of Killecrankie. At a certain point of elevation on the
road, with the romantic ruTns of Kilchurn close on our left, and foaming
cataracts^rushing down the side of the mountain on our right, we have



LOCH AWE BEN-CRUACHAN. 77

a very superb view of the lake, with its islands and remains of castles
and convents diversifying and embellishing its polished surface. The
road still winds, and ascends, till the mountain rises nearly like a wall,
on one hand, while the lake is several hundred feet below us on the
other, the descent to which is perfectly perpendicular, and would be
frightful to look over, were it not screened by a hanging wood growing
out of the rocks. At one of the most dangerous points of this pass a
gentleman met us, riding on a refractory Highland pony, who, claiming
the right hand of us, and turning short, with his head to the mountain
and his haunches to the post-chaise, gave us such a stern-board (to use
a nautical expression) as nearly sent us all smack into Loch Awe, over
a tremendous precipice !

The end of the lake is by no means devoid of historical recollections
and interesting associations. We find, that while a chivalrous knight
errant from the valley of Glenorchy was slaying the Mussulmen in.
Palestine, and intent on rebuilding Jerusalem, his more prudent wife
was far better employed at home, in constructing the substantial Castle
of Kilchurn, whose ruined towers now totter, in melancholy grandeur,
over the placid wave of Loch Awe !

What a revolution in sentiment, since the time of Sir Colin the Cru-
sader ! The descendants of those knights of Rhodes and defenders of
faith, who shed their blood and squandered their treasure on foreign
shores, in repressing the banners of Mahomet, are now exerting their
influence to prevent the CROSS from supplanting the CRESCENT on the
dome of St. Sophia, and the minarets of Byzantium ! That event
will, however, take place, despite the interference of most Christian
kings, and their Christian subjects. Islamism, like Judaism, Paganism,
and fifty other isms, carries with it the principle of decay, and, like
them, will be scattered on the winds. If Christianism be found to
contain within its bosom the germ of perpetuation, instead of the seeds
of dissolution, it will prove an additional proof of its divine origin.

It was in this dangerous and difficult pass, that the rebel Lorn en-
countered the royal Bruce, and, without the foresight, the second sight,
or the after-sight of a true Highlander, permitted some of the royal
troops, with Douglas at their head, to scramble up the steeps of Ben-
Cruachan, and hurl destruction on his own head. In this narrow path,
between precipitous rocks and a foaming river, two or three hundred
men might defy an army, if they did nothing else than loosen the stones,
and allow the force of gravity to 'pour down volleys of granite and
porphyry on the invading foe.

The river Awe, between its parent lake, and the bridge which spans
it, on the road to Taynuilt, is exceedingly interesting, to the geologist as



18 PISCATORY PROPENSITIES.

well as to the lover of picturesque scenery. The southern bank of the
river is an uninterrupted series of precipices, six or seven hundred feet
in height, overhanging a series of rapids, along which the waters of the
Awe rush forward to mingle with their briny mother in Loch Etive.

Few contemplative travellers can skirt the streams of Caledonia
without having their attention arrested by the piscatory propensities of
mankind. Phrenology is yet in its infancy; and I apprehend that
Gall and Spurzheim, Coombe and Elliotson have overlooked the organ
of angling, in the topography of the brain. A tour in the Highlands,
or even an excursion along the banks of the Awe, would afford the
phrenologist ample materials for reflection, and stimulate him to the
search after another inhabited spot in the mental map. The seven -
leagued boots, the uncouth doublet, the baskets, boxes, and canisters,
filled with creeping and unutterable things the silence, solitude, and
cat-like patience of these weeping willows, hanging pensively over the
banks of purling rills or stagnant pools, form very picturesque objects
in the Highland glens for the contemplative traveller.

That the exercise, the animation even the dangers of the CHASE,
should furnish irresistible attractions to the sportsman, is not to be
wondered at; but the passion for ANGLING must be an innate propen-
sity, dependent on some hitherto undiscovered organ, probably situated
on the banks of one of those pretty little lakes or watering-places in the
brain, which are called ventricles, aqueducts, &c., by anatomists. I
hope the phrenological map of the brain will soon exhibit the thirty-
fifth organ.

TAYNUILT, the half-way house between Dalmally and Oban, is situ-
ated in a wild and picturesque country, commanding beautiful views of
Ben-Cruachan and Loch Etive. The CABARET here, is that where
MacCulloch drew one of his most humorous descriptions of the economy
and attendance of a Highland inn. There was no relay of horses here,
but then there was plenty of salmon, whiskey, and oat-cake. Whether we
had cast our shadows before us, or the innkeeper had the gift of second
sight, I know not, but in twenty minutes a very tolerable dinner was on
the table, notwithstanding Dr. MacCulloch's description of Highland
procrastination ; so that the Dalmally horses and the Sassenach tra-
vellers made a hearty repast before they started for Oban. The drive
to the latter place, partly by sun, partly by moon light, was very in-
teresting. The Connel Falls saluted us with a hoarse murmur as we
left the ferry on our right the mouldering towers of Dunstaffnage flung
their dark shadows on the water while the rocks echoed back the
melancholy sounds of the breeze that whispered among the tombstones
of the neighbouring chapel.



PICTURESQUE PORT OF OBAN. 79



OBAN.

OBAN is, on a small scale, in the WEST, what ORMUZ was, on a grand
scale, in the EAST. It is the commercial and touristic.al centre of the
Highlands, the Islands, and the Lowlands. A Roman poet, in giving
a false description of Carthage, has given an exact portrait of Oban.

" Est in secessu longo locus, insulaportum
Efficit objectu laterum ; quibus omnis ab alto
Frangitur, inque sinus scindit sese unda reductos.
Hinc atque hinc vastse rupes.

. . quorum sub vertice late
jEquoratuta silent."

On two days of the week, and at certain hours of the day, three
steamers and a stage-coach are seen approaching the modern Ormuz,
from the four cardinal points of the compass. The INVERNESS steamer,
from the North, hoists its black signal on Loch Linhie that of GLAS-
GOW, from the South, advances from the Crinan Canal the lazy and
crazy HIGHLANDER (now the New Staffa) emerges westward from the
Sound of Mull while the Inverary DILIGENCE, from the East, winds
down the hill where the " Maid of Lorn" once displayed her fairy
figure, and where the ruins of Dunolly Castle still impend over the
wave-worn rocks*.

The advent of four such important caravans produces as great a sen-
sation in Oban, as the arrival of a fleet of Indiamen formerly did in St.
Helena f ; and not merely sensation, but motion also. The whole of
Oban is instantly roused from torpor to activity from listless ennui to
fervid excitement. The innkeepers are all on the alert, while the
scouts, videttes, and purveyors of the rival hotels are on active service
and full pay. The skirmishing generally begins among these light
troops ; but seldom with any bloodshed. It is among the baggage
train that words frequently proceed to blows, and pitched battles are
fought for a trunk or a band-box, which lies, of course, on the quay, or
in the street, (if not rolled into the kennel, or tumbled into the water)
till the contest is decided. Meanwhile the contents of the steamers
men, -women, children, sheep, poultry, pigs, dogs, salmon, herrings,
casks, trunks, bags, baskets, hampers, books, portfolios, maps, guns,
fishing-tackle, and thousands of other articles, are in rapid transit from

* It is curious that Sir Walter Scott, in two different passages, places Dunolly
Castle on the banks of Loch Etive ! See Lord of the Isles, Note viii. p. 359.

j- A young lady of James Town, asked an English friend, if the arrival of ihe East
India ships did not make London very gay ?



80 SCENK AT OBAN.

vessel to vessel from steamer to coach, and from coach to steamer,
under such a conclatteration of tongues (for language is out of the
question) as was never heard round the Tower of Babel or the pulpit of
Irving !

The more violent the fermentation, the more rapid and complete is
the subsequent amalgamation. The jarring elements, which we have
seen in such commotion and oscillation, quickly find their appropriate
affinities, or centripetal locations, and in a few minutes all is order and
harmony in the thriving port of OBAN. The inns are crowded the
shops are thronged the streets are paraded and the little mount that
overlooks the quay, is now occupied with artists, eager to sketch the
surrounding scenery.

Seating myself among these heroes of the pencil, I was surprised and
gratified to see the ruin of Lorn Castle rising on the south side of Oban
Bay (on paper) so repaired and beautified (as the churchwardens would
say) that I scarcely knew it the mountains of MORVEN, cleared of
their mists, increased in altitude, and removed thirty miles farther from
the Pole than they usually stand BEN-MORE, no longer the pride of
Mull, but transferred to the mainland KERRARA, elevated into a
romantic island OBAN, advanced from a fishing town to a Constanti-
nople in miniature and the trap rocks, round Dunolly Castle, trans-
muted into mountains of plum-pudding, where the raisins, the suet,
and the paste, were as conspicuous as if seen through the solar micro-
scope in Regent-street, or the oxygen gas of Bond-street. Such are the
wonders of the pencil and the brush.

In the course of a few hours, another scene of bustle and activity
obtains. Crowds of tourists issue from the inns, descend from the
hills, and collect on the quays, according to their elective attractions, or
chemical affinities for Glasgow or Inverness, for Mull or Inverary. As
they converged, a few hours previously, from the four winds, to the
central mart or exchange of OBAN, they now diverge, like radii from a
centre, in quest of new scenes and fresh sources of excitement.

There is not much in Oban to attract us thither, except the facilities
which it presents of going elsewhere a valuable quality, by the bye,
not always possessed by Highland towns of greater pretensions. Yet the
Bay of Oban is very picturesque, the town clean, the inhabitants civil,
the air pure, and the accommodations good enough for the Duke of
Argyle or the Marquess of Breadalbane.

But Oban has been fortunate in another respect. The poet's pen
has rendered it consecrated ground, and converted the arid trap-rock
into classic soil. Around the mouldering ruins of Dunolly, that over-
hang the briny wave, the Wizard of the North has waved his magic



OBAN. 81

wand and started into existence, or conjured up from the dark womb
of legendary tradition, a living drama of love and war, of maidens fair
and chieftains bold, that will be rehearsed and re-enacted by Gael and
Sassenach wanderer, long after the rock, on which the RUINS of LORN
stand, shall have been worn into sand by the ever-boiling wave below.

A modern traveller was not a little surprised to find a common High-
land tinker busily employed in the construction of a kaleidescope at Oban,
a few weeks after that fashionable and evanescent toy of philosophy was
broached in the metropolis of the British isles. If one of the Lords of
Lorn were permitted to peep out of the ruins of Dunolly, or the tombs
of lona, and step into a library near the ARGYLL ARMS, in Oban, he
would probably be not less astonished than puzzled, to see a large table
covered with the TIMES and the COURIER, the CHRONICLE and the
GLOBE, the HERALD and the SUN, the POST and the STANDARD, the
LITERARY GAZETTE and the COURT JOURNAL, the ATHENAEUM and the
SPECTATOR together with all the Reviews and Journals, from the QUAR-
TERLY and EDINBURGH, down to the Penny LAWYER and the Halfpenny
DOCTOR ! The Ronalds and the Somerlids would have some difficulty
in reading these various vehicles of news, literature, and science, now
circulated through the wildest glens of the Highlands and Hebrides ;
but, if called on to interpret them into their native Gaelic, they
would slink back into their graves, thankful that they had escaped an
era of such unintelligible gibberish and barbarous jargon !

Accident detained us several days at Oban, including the Sabbath.
We profited, I hope, by hearing the word of God, in temples made by
human hands, and also on a neighbouring hill, where the temple was
" all space," and

" The altars earth, sea, skies."

If the doctrines propounded in the former locality did not command our
implicit assent, while those delivered on the mount were unintelligible;
one thing was evident to the senses that the pastors were sincere, and
anxious to instruct the congregation attentive, and eager to learn.
This, in truth, appeared to be the case, from the Falls of the Clyde to
the Pentland Firth from the wilds of Loch Scavig to the valleys of
Perth.

The house of Lorn is humbled indeed ! But it is probable that the
present representative of the Somerlids is not less happy, nor less
contented, than the most proud and potent Lord of the Isles, in the
feudal ages. Over the romantic cot, redolent of the honeysuckle, the
rose, and the sweet-brier, the mouldering tower of Dunolly sweeps its
evening shade, as if to remind the descendant of the Lorns that MAN
himself is but a shadow ! If the tottering KEEP of his martial fore-



82 SALtJTARlUM AT OBAN.

fathers still stands a sad memorial of fallen greatness, it stands also an
unquestionable proof of noble birth and high descent. Ancestral pride
may excite the sneer of the philosopher, and the hatred of the vulgar ;
but it very often supports the fortitude of man under the pressure of
adversity, inspires courage in the hour of peril, and preserves honour
in the midst of temptation. The history of mankind proves that the
" pride of birth'.' is a universal, and therefore a natural feeling. The
ignorant Iroquois shows it as intensely in the wilds of America, as the
haughty Castilian in the valleys of Spain the cannibal of New Zealand,
as unequivocally as the Norman baron or the Saxon lord. Very few
despise this feeling, who are entitled to possess it ; but, whenever noble
birth is attended by other than noble actions, heraldry only lights the
torch that casts a lurid gleam over the funeral of departed honour !

Before quitting OBAN, I may remark that this romantic little town is
likely to prove attractive on another account besides that of affording
facilities for going elsewhere. It seems that the air of this place is sin-
gularly salubrious, and that a physician of high respectability, and great
information (Dr. Aldcorn) is here establishing a kind of SALUTARIUM,
similar to that which is resorted to among the Nilgherry mountains in
India, for the accommodation of such invalids as are recommended to
change the air and scene, in the summer or autumnal months. I think
it highly probable that this place will be found to possess some valu-
able qualities conducive to the restoration of health, and the attainment
of much recreation, by excursions to Staffa, Sky, lona, Glen Etive, Loch
Awe, Ben-Cruachan, the Corrivrechan, and numerous other Highland
and Island lions, all within reach of the PORTUS SALUTIS, or head-quar-
ers at Oban.



SUNDAY.

As, in politics, we have Whigs, Tories, and Radicals so, in religion,
we have Fanatics, Hypocrites, and Infidels. Fanatics are probably the
most respectable, and the least mischievous of the three classes; be-
cause they are conscientious and well-intentioned. There is a con-
siderable tincture of fanaticism in Scotland especially in the Lowlands
but this will, of course, be flatly denied. Mais n'importe. The SAB-
BATH has lately engaged the attention of legislators, and the discussion
is only beginning. The " Lord's day" the periodical holiday of youth
is associated, in memory, with pleasure and relaxation with enjoy-
ment and happiness, rather than with regret or repentance. Injudicious
as dark is the spirit which would convert the sunshine of Sabbath into



CALEDONIAN SABBATH. 83

a day of mortification and gloom the day of rejoicing into a day of
penance and sadness of darkness and fear ! It has been well remarked
by a talented Scotchman, that

" This is not the character of our religion, nor should it be the cha-
racter of our Sunday. But in this Presbyterian country, the fog and
the mist, the rain and the storm, suit but too well the feelings and the
character of the mental day. Yet, fortunately, this too is wearing out.
In the Highlands, in particular, it is seldom seen ; and it is delightful
to contemplate the cheerful faces, cheerful though sedate, and the
bright dresses which, once in the week of labour and dulness, meet on
the brown moor or the bleak sea-shore ; renewing the friendships and
discussions of the week, then joining with gravity, but not with gloom,
in the performance of their duties, and again, without levity, meeting
to terminate their little politics and affairs, before they disperse to the
toils of the ensuing period. If, in the Highlands, there is not the joy
of an English Sunday, neither is there the mortified and affected pre-
cision and solemnity of a Lowland one : nor do I know where the recur-
rence of this day produces effects which we contemplate with more of
heartfelt pleasure, and with less of desire to censure." MacCulloch,
Vol. ii. pp. 305, 306.

The attempts which are now making to render the Sabbath a periodii
cal day of misery, mortification, starvation, and disgust to the myriads
of our poor, will, I trust, be frustrated by the good sense of English-
men though I am far from being over sanguine in this hope.



ODE TO ST. ANDREW.

Bills of all sorts I have read
To say nought of those I've paid-
But a longer Bill than thine,
More perplexing line by line,
Never met these eyes of mine.
'Twould do credit (I'm no railer,
Andrew") to a Bond-street tailor.
Saints of old were wont to cry
That the passports to the sky
Were Faith, Hope, and Charity ;
But thy Bill of Bills, St. Andrew,
Teaches us (what more can man do ?)
That the passport to salvation
Is Sabbatical starvation,
By which, it is presumed, you mean
Heaven is only for the lean ;
Cheering creed, did he but know it,
To each half- starved epic poet !

62



84 CALEDONIAN SABBATH.

Prime Apostle of the age

Now Johanna's left the stage

Born to scourge those horrid sinners

Who persist in Sabbath dinners,

And (what's worse) blaspheme their Maker

By encouraging their baker ;

Hiring sinful hacks on Sundays,

Shirking Church on hot-cross-bun days,

And quadrilling awful sight !

Thro' the livelong Christmas night,

Methinks, old Huntington I hear

Twang this summons in thy ear

" Andrew, take thy tub and preach,

Stick to sinners like a leech,

And to make thy task completer,

Share it with thy cad. Saint Peter ;

Never mind tho' sceptics rail,

Boys tie crackers to thy tail,

Wicked Cruikshank sketch thy phiz,

Pamphlets sneer or journals quiz;

Thou by preaching up starvation

To this stiff-neck'd generation,

Preaching down all Sunday hacks,

And the Atheists on their backs,

Shalt in time o'ercome each scruple,

And the power of cant quadruple,

For John Bull's sense is, I see,

Dying fast of atrophy ;

Speed, then, Andrew, thine endeavour,

Hallelujah ! Cant for ever !"

Speed, ay speed thee, man of God,
Make this land the land of Nod ;
That is, set us all asleep
By thy speeches, heap on heap,
And thy Bill, whose every line
Is a drowsy anodyne ;
Speed thee on ; but hold, my lays
Are too poor to hymn thy praise ;
Worth like thine, so all-commanding,
Passing human understanding,
Can alone be filly sung
In our Irving's Unknown Tongue.

Without entering into the interminable discussion respecting the
divine or human institution of SUNDAY, let us adopt the intermediate
tenet of Archdeacon Paley. That illustrious divine comes to the con-
clusion that " the assembling on the first day of the week, for the
purpose of public worship and religious instruction is a law of Christi-
anity, of divine origin; and that the resting, on that day, from our em-



CALEDONIAN SABBATH. 85

ployments, longer than we are detained from them by an attendance
upon these assemblies, is, to Christians, an ordinance of human institu-
tion." Those who consider that they are bound to observe the SAB-
BATH of the Jews (a people who would not interrupt the operations of
the Roman army against Jerusalem on that sacred day) should lie in bed
from Saturday till Monday, in order to comply strictly with the Mosaic
decree that they and their servants shall do " no manner of work." We
are told, however, by the divine Author of our religion, that we may
lawfully drag an ox or an ass out of mire or slough, on the Sabbath day;
and if so, I would argue from analogy, that we may lawfully drag, on
the Lord's day, an artisan, shopkeeper, or citizen, out of the polluted
atmosphere of London, by means of omnibus, .stage, or steam, to enjoy
the benefit and the pleasure of the fresh air, at Hampstead, Richmond,
or Blackheath. By the same divine Legislator we are authorised to
" heal the sick," even on the Sabbath ; and as miracles have ceased,
we may surely employ physical means for that purpose, none of which
are more efficacious than removal from the scene of suffering and labour,
on the only day which is free from toil. He who would take from the
poor the means of transport from the crowded and unhealthy city on
Sunday, while he and the rich roll about in their luxurious carriages, is
a bigot, of narrow understanding, weak philanthropy, and gloomy, if not
false religion, unacquainted with the wants, the wishes, and the well-
being of MAN, while presumptuously legislating for his immortal soul,
upon self-erected principles, or rather constructions of holy writ, calcu-
lated to insure his fellow-creatures a foretaste of purgatory upon earth,


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Online LibraryJames JohnsonThe recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides → online text (page 10 of 28)