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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pebbly shore, and, in another place, a silent pool sleeping beneath the
shadow of overhanging trees. Dense woods tower aloft on one side, and,
on the other, noble ashes and oaks, perched high above, throw their
arms wide over the water ; while, springing from the chasms of the rocks
below, the silvery branches and the pale trembling foliage of the aspen,
serve to contrast with their dark recesses, aiding, with the bright green
of the woodrush, the feathering ferns, and the wild roses, to relieve the
broad masses of rock, and adding ornament of detail to grandeur of
forms. Nor is it a small cause of the peculiarly striking effect of this
scenery, that almost in an instant, after leaving a village and a fre-
quented road, we find ourselves in a spot which human foot has never
trod, where all traces of the world without have vanished, and where no
sound breaks the silence but the murmuring of the stream and the whis-
pering of the leaves. It is as if we were suddenly transported into the
deepest wilds of unknown mountains, amid masses of ruin and marks
of violence, strangely contrasting and enhancing the profound stillness,
while they speak the devastations of past ages, which seem as if they
could never again return to disturb the calm repose of this solitude*."

If it be true that language was given to man in order to conceal his
thoughts, it is equally true that descriptions of scenery, whether poetical,
pictorial, or prosaic, are well calculated to disguise their prototypes in
nature. Of the three classes of painters, he of the brush is decidedly
the least extravagant. The poet has a prescriptive right to embellish
that is, to lie since fiction is the soul of poesy ; but the graphic deli-
neator is, too often, either intolerably dull, stupendously unintelligible, or
furiously romantic. If a locality have the good fortune to get betin-
selled with meretricious ornaments, or invested with the insignia of
sublimity, by some popular pen, it will be heresy or want of taste, in any
future observer, to question the accuracy of the portrait. Thus, if any
one were to doubt that the Hanoverian soldiers refused to march through
the dark ravine of Killicrankie, lest it should lead them into another,
and not a better world, he would stand a chance of having Scotland
about his ears and perhaps the EDINBURGH REVIEW into the bargain !

For my own part, I am free to confess that, if the pass into the
NETHER world be no more formidable than this of Killicrankie ; and if
the climate there be no hotter than that of Inverness and Ross-shire, I
should not mind taking a month's tour through the dominions of his
NETHER-LAND majesty provided always that I was furnished with a
regular passe-par -tout from his majesty's charge d'affaires at our own
court, where I believe he is never without a representative.

* MacCulloch, vol. i. p. 419.


And here I may take leave to express my astonishment that none of
our adventurous modern travellers have explored these lower regions in
search of novelty and wonders ; since Tartarus might yield more ma-
terials for book-making than Tartary, the North Pole, or the Alleghany
mountains*. The excursion would not, I think, be very difficult, since
the Roman bard has expressly assured us that " the descent to Avernus
is very easy." The traveller would only have to slide down the crater
of Vesuvius, or the shaft of a mine in Cornwall, and he would soon be
in a world unexplored since the days of ^Eneas. He might be certain
of a warm reception from all classes there, and would prove a welcome
guest at every table, were it only for the news which he brought from
the upper regions. Considering that no books or journals can descend
there, except what are damned here, the sight of a double sheet of the
TIMES, the Herald, the Post, or the Chronicle, would be a rare treat !
It would make a table-cloth for Pluto and Proserpine, off which their
majesties might breakfast, dine, and sup, for a month, without exhaust-
ing the intellectual banquet ! What a fund of information and amuse-
ment would the statistical essays of Phillips, Robins, and Squib, afford
to our departed squires, many of whom would be not a little surprised at
the halo of decorations and improvements with which their late estates
had been surrounded at least in the statistical essays ! Some of them,
too, might feel rather indignant to find their parks, mansions, and woods
consigned to the hammer by their hopeful heirs !

How would Fox and Pitt, Tierney and Sheridan, Wilberforce and
Wyndham, Canning and Curran, rub their eyes and wipe their spec-
tacles, in order to read the destruction of rotten boroughs, the manu-
mission of slaves, the abolition of monopolies, the emancipation of Ca-
tholics, the commutation of tithes, the reformations of the church, the
progress of knowledge the multiplication of schoolmasters and,
(mirabile dictu) the increase of discontent, disaffection, and crime f '

* M. Heraud's " Descent into Hell/' being in verse, can only pass for fiction, and
therefore is not entitled to rank with the veritable narratives of prosaic tourists. Captain
Ross will, no doubt, give us an animated account of the uninhabitable regions about the
Pole, where men may live, like bears, by sucking their paws a most important piece
of information in these days and more valuable, perhaps, than all the additions that
have been made to geographical science by his Hyperborean predecessors. I beg it to
be distinctly understood that I allude to no other TARTARUS than that which has been
so carefully explored and accurately described by the highly respectable and veracious
traveller, ^ENEAS.

f It is not a little curious that Mr. Cobbett, who is no fool, should inveigh against
the spread of " laming," among the lower classes, seeing that he himself has laboured
for nearly half a century to do that which he condemns. It is sophistry to dissociate
learning from knowledge. Without the former, he cannot arrive at the latter unless


What would NELSON say to the battle of Navarino ; where Gauls,
Bears, and Britons joined, like the Crusaders of old, to slaughter the
TURK, our " faithful ally" in the days of Nelson's glory ? How would
CATHERINE exult, on learning that her eagled banners waved from the
heights of the Balkan to the shores of the Bosphorus ! How would the
long line of CAESARS be puzzled, when told that the " KING of ROME"
had recently died, a state prisoner, on the Danube that his imperial
father had pined and perished, a few years previously, in exile and cap-
tivity, on a barren rock in the Atlantic that the Roman empire (such
as it is) was swayed by a priest that the martial eagles were changed
into peaceable crosses that the barbarian CROATS dictated to imperial
Rome from the banks of the Po that on the very summit of the Ca-
pitol, an altar was raised, and incense smoked to the GOD, whom their
Lieutenant, PILATE, had condemned to death, in Judea, as a MAN !

How would the Cleopatras and the Ptolomies start in horror, or burn
with rage, to find that sacrilegious hands had invaded the sanctuaries of
their tombs carried off the frail memorials of their former existence,
and the earthly tabernacles which they fondly hoped once more to
inhabit tore the bitumened cerements from their withered limbs and
exposed their inmost vitals to the rude gaze of mortal eyes in Grafton-
street and Saville-row !

What would MAHOMET but I forgot ! The Prophet did not conde-
scend to visit the nether regions. He galloped off, on his airy courser,
to certain pleasure-grounds in the skies, which he had previously laid
out in delightful gardens planted with umbrageous trees and stocked
with black-eyed houries, in reversion for the. true believers ! Who will
deny that Mahomet was a veritable prophet? He foresaw that the ter-
ritory of the Mussulman would slip from under his foot on earth and
Avisely provided him with ample domains in the Third Heaven *.

we make exceptions the general rules. Mr. Cobbett says tbat learning (make it, if you
please, merely reading and writing) has increased and so has crime ergo the one is
the cause of the other. This is the " Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" argument; of all
others the most fallacious. It is the old ratiocination that Tenterden steeple was the
cause of the Goodwin Sands. We might just as safely infer that, as crime has increased
since the introduction of gas, ergo, gas is the cause of crime ! Who commit crimes ?
Answer, MEN. Have men increased in numbers ? Answer, Yes. What say you, Mr.
Cobbett, to this little principle of causation ?

* No two things present a greater contrast, than Turk and Tartar, in the last scene
of human existence ! The Turk, with the certain prospect and belief of a paradise,
clings to life with painful and dastard tenacity supplicates his physician in the most
abject terms, to ward off the hand of death that is stretched out to conduct him to the
presence of the Prophet and struggles against fate, like an animal led to slaughter !
The Tartar, who has no such bright reversion in the skies," succumbs with the apathy


But I have digressed too far and the stone, which marks the spot
where Claverhouse fell in the arms of victory and death in the noble,
but unfashionable cause of legitimacy calls up historical recollections
that must not now be indulged. If the gallant Viscount's spirit were
permitted, but for one day, to revisit his native mountains, how would
he stare to behold a magnificent mail-coach, laden, inside and out, with
Englishmen, dashing through the Pass of Killicrankie at the rate of ten
miles an hour !


A considerable portion of this dreary route may be characterized in
the words of a celebrated modern tourist : " With the slight exception
of Loch Garry, it is all a Dalwinnie houseless, treeless, lifeless ; want-
ing in every thing but barrenness and deformity while there is not
even one object so much worse than another, as to attract a moment's
attention. Like itself in the same circumstances, it is as tedious in the
passage as disagreeable but, when passed, leaving no impression of
time or place."

Begging MacCulloch's pardon, it has left an impression on my mind
which will not be readily effaced . It presented an emblem of sterility,
more striking than the savage mountain of Radicofani, or the volcanic
masses that compose the exterior of St. Helena. The same author has
instanced the summit of Ben-Nevis, as an excellent station for the
TITANS, when they warred against the Gods, and where the stones pro-
bably rolled back again on the heads of the impious rebels. But I
think the country through which we are now passing, was more likely
to have been the scene of action than Ben-Nevis ; since it must have
afforded much better footing for the Titan conspirators, and a far
ampler arsenal of artillery for their stony warfare with the skies !

" I've traversed many a mountain strand,
Abroad and in my native land,
And it has been my fate to tread
Where safety more than pleasure led;
Thus many a waste I've wander' d o'er,
Clomb many a crag, cross'd m:my a moor,

But by my Halidome,
A scene so rude, so wild as this,
Yet so sublime in barrenness,
Ne'er did my wandering footsteps press,
Where'er I happ'd to roam."

of a Stoic, or the fortitude of a Christian evincing in the trying hour of dissolution that
nonchalance which his prouder neighbour exhibits through the greater part of his life !
See Dr. Madden's highly interesting travels in the East.



Notwithstanding the dreariness of the route from Blair-Athol to
Inverness, I have seldom made a more pleasant journey. Agreeable
and intelligent companions will convert a wilderness into a paradise, at
any time, as I have often experienced, in my journey through life ; and
never, perhaps, was the exterior of the Inverness mail better garnished
with brains than on the present occasion. The whole journey, in fact,
was a festival of intellect ; and the effusions of wit, intelligence, and
erudition, that were wasted on the chilling breezes that swept the
rugged mountains and blasted heaths, on each side of us, might have
been turned to good account by some of the short-hand writers, and
long-headed prosers of Modern Babylon or Modern Athens. But the
winds were too cold, and the intellectual corruscations too vivid, to
permit my fingers to note impressions on this route, with the exception
of a very few particulars.


This was an object very little anticipated in the Highlands; but it
differed considerably from that over the Menai. On coming to the top
of a little eminence, we were startled at the sight of a couple of horses
hanging on the outside of a singled-arched bridge in the valley beneath
dangling in the air, at the end of a broken pole, and suspended by
their traces over a roaring torrent ! The coach itself seemed not" to
have quite made up its mind, whether or not it would follow the horses ;
but it was evidently inclined to that side of the question, as in duty
bound. Not so the passengers, who appeared to have been suddenly
stricken with that dreadful disease hydrophobia, and were jumping
down and tumbling out, in the utmost precipitation, horror-struck at
the idea of changing their mode of travelling from land to water-car-
riage. Meantime, the guard, the coachman, and two or three volun-
teers, wisely came to the conclusion, that the time had passed away,
even in the Highlands, for executing refractory criminals, in this sum-
mary way, before trial by jury, or the sentence of a judge. They there-
fore proceeded to cut the traces of the suspended parties, and with more
success than on a noted occasion in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh,
for, on dropping from the gibbet, the Highland horses plunged into the
torrent (an element nearly as congenial to them as the atmosphere,)
disappeared under the bridge, scrambled up the steep bank of the river,
and, in half an hour, were yoked to a broken pole, and a lightened
load of live-lumber, the majority of the passengers preferring a pedes-
trian excursion to the next inn, to the risk of another " whamble" over
the range-wall of a bridge !


The Inverness mail requires REFORM. The proprietors think that
John Bull cannot have too much variety; and therefore they give him
a new coachman every ten miles, at the trifling expense of a decimile
demand on his purse ! Fortunately we had a HUMITE among our
number, who calculated to an azimuth what we had to pay the coach-
man at each stage. The result was FOURPENCE a dividend which
called forth every hour and a half such a jargon of unintelligible languages
(God save the mark), as never was heard at the Tower of Babel, or in
any other place, except the road from Killicrankie to Inverness ! Tem-
pora mutantur. The peal of laughter which rose from the top of the
mail-coach, at Sawney's rage and disappointment, only heightened the
paroxysm of fury, by reminding the aggrieved party of the change of
times, since the days of Rob Roy, or Donald Bean Lean, when the
surly Sassenachs would have suffered severely for their refusal to pay
" black mail" for safe passport through the Highland mountains!

On this route we pass two remarkable mansions one the den of a
wolf, ample and splendid enough for the residence of a baron : the
other, the retreat of a prince, scarcely fit for the lair of a wild beast!
The former is called BADENOCH, though I would say it was GOOD
EXOCGH too good, indeed for the red savage in man's form, its
quondam inhabitant. In the latter, or retreat, Prince Charles Edward
learnt more sound philosophy and true wisdom, than in the court or the
camp. In the field of Culloden, he received the lesson of misfortune
but it was in the cavern of Strath-Spey that he learnt to bear it with
fortitude, acting up to the precept of the Roman poet

" Rebus angustis, animosus atque
Forlis appare.

On the right hand we passed a dreary mountain, where stones, ga-
thered on the Andes, and purchased in London for twopence a piece,
are sold by Sawney to the silly Southron Sassenachs, as real CAIRN-
GORUMS, for five shillings each ! And where is the harm in this ?
We aic assured, on the authority of Shakspeare, that he who is robbed,
not knowing what he has lost, is not robbed at all. Why should not a
penny be turned into half a crown on a Highland mountain as well as
on a Lowland plain ? The one pebble is just as good as the other in a
lady's broach or Cockney's seal. There is not more profit or loss on
the Scoto-Brazilian bauble, than on many other articles of commerce.
How dearly do we pay for crabbed words scrawled widely on dirty
parchment, from the lawyer for hieroglyphics, in dog Latin, from the
doctor for blue-pill and black broth, from the apothecary for burnt
bones and alum, from the baker for sloe-juice and sure death from the
vintner for permission to see the sun, from the tax-gatherer for the



preservation of old constitutions, by the Tories for the reformation of
them by the Whigs for the destruction of them by the Radicals for
long stories, little wit, and less information, from the circulating library
for dull prosing in the senate for special pleading at the bar for in-
spired effusions from the pulpit, redolent of schism, in the guise of Scrip-
ture, and better calculated to pull down the steeple than to repair the
church : in short, for every article of commerce, material or intellectual,
not one of which escapes adulteration, substitution, or deterioration in
its transit from retailer to customer. Let us not, therefore, condemn
the industrious lapidary of the Highland mountains. An act is merito-
ous or culpable according to the intention. Sawney's object is to ame-
liorate the condition of his family by transferring a portion of super-
fluous wealth from the citizen to the cottager. He is merely an agent in
the great and salutary operations of Providence, by which unnatural
accumulations in the body politic are diminished ; in the same way
that local plethora, in the human frame, is relieved by the suction of
the leech, an animal, whose selfish propensities are turned to good
account by the skilful physician.

We passed another locality on this road which few travellers can con-
template without emotion the identical spot where Ossian was born,
and where his father, to whose memory a monument is erected, lived
and died. There can be no doubt that Fingal Macpherson, the parent of
Ossian, laboured under that species of insanity which is termed mono-
mania, or mental illusion on some particular point. The proofs would
have satisfied any commission of lunacy that ever sat in Gray's-Inn
Coffee-house. First, he asserted, and maintained, to the last day of his
life, that his own son was born many centuries before himself and
secondly, that Ossian was the son of a king, and not of a Highland sub-
ject. But the grand proof consisted in the astounding fact that a mo-
dern writer and especially a poet, was overburthened with modesty
preferring the humble title of TRANSLATOR to AUTHOR the insignificant
merit of distilling other men's conceptions through his own sensorium,
to the magnificent and envious distinction of ORIGINAL COMPOSER !
This is beyond all credibility ; and therefore we are led to the inevitable
conclusion, that poor Macpherson was a monomaniac, and carried the
hallucination with him to the grave. But whether original or translated,
the poetical prose of Ossian was penned in a situation not ill adapted
for the effusions of poetry or madness, so nearly allied to each other, if
not identical. Such wild mountains, barren heaths, and gloomy skies
would have made an Italian sad and a Frenchman serious. One winter
here would have caused Voltaire to cut his throat Rabelais to write
hymns Sterne to turn Methodist Croker to be blunt Hook to be


prosy Mathews to be mute and Yates, in consequence, to be a

In the foregoing reflections, however, I am only shadowing forth the
general opinion, as to the authenticity of Ossian's Poems, on the south
side of the Tweed. The following is probably the real state of the case.
Macpherson collected, partly from oral traditions, partly from manu-
scripts, the poems assigned to Ossian, filling up lacunse, and joining
scattered fragments, as well as he could, and in language as nearly
resembling the original as possible. These he published, little anti-
cipating the storm of criticism and crimination that was to burst over
his head. The poems attracted so much attention, and their merits
were so lauded, not to say exaggerated, that the translator was placed
between the horns of a dilemma. If he produced the proofs of authen-
ticity (which, by the by, would have been very difficult under the fore-
going circumstances) he lost the credit of being their author at that
time an enviable distinction ! If he refused proof, he fell under the
suspicion, and even the open accusation of imposture ! He chose the
latter, leaving posterity to unriddle the enigma as they best may. Thus
the pride of being thought a poetical genius may have counterbalanced
the reproach (and that, too, unfounded) of literary mendacity.

I find the belief in the authenticity of Ossian very firm among those
who are best acquainted with the Gaelic language in the Highlands.
Some of the MSS. are said to be lately discovered; and there are people
yet living, who can repeat hundreds or even thousands of lines corre-
sponding with parts of the original poems.

But to make a long journey, if not a long story short, I shall only
allude to one other remarkable locality on this route : a widely ex-
tended plain, the name of which will draw forth the sigh of sorrow from
Highland hearts, so long as mists gather round their mountains, or
streams pour over their rocks. A chivalrous youth, whose name was
Charles, took a violent longing for a velvet bonnet with a gold band,
worn by a distant relation of his own, a Mr. George, and claimed it,
on the plea that it had formerly belonged to his forefathers. The actual
possessor of the bonnet resisted the claim, on the plea that it had only
been lent to Mr. Charles's ancestor, and that the lawful owners had placed
it on the head of the defendant, in the most legitimate manner. As the
point could not be settled by law, it was referred to the arbitration of
the bayonet not, as in the days of chivalry, to be decided by personal
combat, but by a general conflict among all the friends of both parties !
The contest for this bauble drenched the field of Culloden with human
gore blanched it with the bones, and fattened it with the flesh of war-
riors and patriots, whose valour was their misfortune, whose loyalty was


their crime, and whose fidelity was, at once, their punishment and their
reward !

" Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi."

The literal translation of which line is " When kings begin to quarrel,
economical subjects ought to lose no time in purchasing mourning."


I trust that the reader who has thus far travelled with the author, is
in no fear of long descriptions. When I say that the town (I beg par-
don, the CAPITAL) in which we have safely arrived, may be character-
ized as a handsome CITY pleasantly situated on two sides of a river
with a bridge in the middle a mountain (Craig Phaedric) on the
north, and a plain (Culloden) on the south a frith to the east, and a
canal to the west a church, without a steeple ; and a steeple without
a church (that ornament being placed over the jail) an excellent inn
(or more) clean streets and decent houses inhabitants not extremely
unlike those of other large towns in Scotland, or even in England, having
shoes on their feet, stockings on their legs, inexpressibles where they
ought to be coats on their backs, hats, or caps, on their heads sneeshin
in their mulls whiskey in their stomachs no lack of brains in their
skulls and very intelligible Scoto-English in their mouths there is
little else necessary to be said of Inverness.

As to the ladies, I will not libel them, as Pope has done, by saying
that they have " no characters at all," for I believe the fair sex of
Inverness have all very good characters. If we are to distinguish them,
however, as the same satirist has done by the complexion " black,
brown, or fair," I would say that the Highland ladies have more of the
rose than their English neighbours more of the lily than the French,
and more of both than the Spanish or Italian belles. If these latter

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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 17 of 28)