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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have more fire in their eyes than the Caledonian fair, they owe it to
their brilliant stars and cloudless skies phenomena extremely rare in
the Highlands! But if an ardent sun kindles heavenly light in a jet
black eye, it is more than suspected of sometimes engendering unhallowed
fires in the throbbing heart, not too favourable to the exercise of Chris-
tian virtues, connubial vows, or domestic duties !

Tourists are the most fortunate people in the world. They seldom
fail to find some remarkable incident or occurrence, just happening
when they visit a place, as if for the very purpose of being put on
record by their fertile pens. It was my good or evil star to be in Inverness


when an event occurred there, unprecedented in the annals of that
capital, or even of the Highlands themselves. On the very day that I
took up my quarters in the Caledonian Hotel, another, and I have the
vanity to think, a much less welcome visiter, arrived in the town the
INDIAN CHOLERA ! Having been formerly on terms of intimacy rather
than of friendship with this unhallowed stranger, in his native country,
I was apprehensive, at first, that I might be suspected of introducing
him clandestinely, and in defiance of the quarantine laws ; but my fears
were soon dispelled, by learning that the blame was universally cast on
the guard of a mail-coach, who had died of cholera, or rather of cold
winds and hot whiskey, some place between Aberdeen and Inverness.
I was therefore at liberty to go about, and observe the effects of the panic
on the inhabitants at largBj without suspicion of being an infected per-
sonage myself. Had not the poor guard been dead, and consequently
irresponsible, I think my conscience would have compelled me to take
the blame on myself, as I was far more likely to have carried the dire
contagion to the capital of the Highlands, than the man who blew the
horn on the top of the stage-coach, over the blasted heath of the Weird

The clergy, in all countries, perhaps in all ages, have been the chief
depositories of knowledge, and are therefore the most rational and
enlightened class of society. The Scottish clergy were, in my mind,
pre-eminently entitled to this distinction ; and to them I directed my
particular attention, on this occasion. The pestilence broke out on
Thursday, and, on Sunday, every pulpit in Inverness resounded with
the fearful annunciation.

I attended at three churches, during that day, but shall only notice
the doctrines propounded in one of them, where, by all accounts, the
most learned, pious, and popular pastor of Inverness presided. The
text (if I recollect right) was from Amos : " Seek ye the true God,
and ye shall not die." A more appropriate and exhilarating portion of
Scripture could hardly have been selected, because it pointed out to the
sinner the means of escaping the cholera, and confirmed the righteous
in his security against the evil. The text was repeated fifty times in
the course of two hours and a half, a strong emphasis being always
laid on " the true God." The preacher did not that day explain what
the " TRUE GOD" was, because, no doubt, the distinction between true
and false deities had been, long before, made patent to the audience.
The address was exceedingly energetic, and, I have no doubt, sincere,
on the part of the preacher ; for tears started frequently in his eyes. If
it was not quite convincing to my mind, it was evidently undoubted as
holy writ, on the minds of the audience, if any judgment could be


formed by their looks and gestures. That the promise of not dying
referred to this world, rather than to the next, was, I think, unques-
tionable ; else why should such a text have been selected on the out-
break of cholera ? The holy man assured his audience, that he who
sought the " true God," would escape death, and every evil till the
natural course of events called him from this scene of trouble. His argu-
ments appeared to me to be those of the PORTICO, rather than of the body
of the Temple of PRODICUS than of a CHRISTIAN PASTOR. This convic-
tion resulted from a saving clause in the winding up of the discourse. A
good man, he said, might possibly fall under the pestilence that now
visited them ; but then, it would not be an evil it would not be death
but a happy translation from a land of misery to a land of happiness.
Prodicus never sent forth a more refined argument !

According to the preacher, the Indian cholera was wholly a dispensa-
tion of the Almighty, on a sinful people. He maintained this proposi-
tion by an appeal to facts. It had been ten times more destructive in
other countries than in Great Britain because the people of those
countries were a wicked and ungodly people ! Unhappily for his argu-
ments, it had been much more fatal in Scotland than in England ;
though the Scotch are universally allowed to know the " true God"
better than their Southron neighbours. Not the slightest allusion was
made to the possibility of the epidemic arising from natural causes. No.
It was a direct visitation of God, on nations and on individuals, for their
sins ! This is a serious doctrine ! Let us examine it a little more
closely. Did the pestilence fall exclusively on the wicked ? It fell
chiefly on the wicked provided always that they were very poor. The
rich man might murder, rob, and ruin all around him he was per-
fectly safe from cholera. The poor man might be the most virtuous,
religious, industrious of his race but poverty was the sin that rendered
him the sure victim of the epidemic ! Such is the species of justice
with which MAN has dared to invest his CREATOR ! If cholera was sent
by a supernatural power on earth, as a scourge, and independent of
natural causes that power would seem to have been EVIL, rather than
GOOD ; for imagination can hardly conceive a visitation more partial and
unjust, than the pestilence in question *.

* There is nothing new under the sun. When the plague broke out in the Grecian
camp, before Troy, the priests, at once, declared that it was sent by one of their (false)
gods. When the cholera invaded Scotland, it was declared by holy men to be a destroy,
ing angel from the " true God." On the banks of the Scamander, sacrifices and cere-
monies were employed to stay the plague : on the shores of the Forth, gunpowder was
detonated, old rags were burnt, and chlorides were sprinkled to stop the cholera ! In
one particular, however, the ancient and the modern soothsayers widely differed. The


And how dare ignorant and presumptuous man to lay his finger on a
single item in the long black catalogue of human afflictions, and say,
this one is a messenger from the Deity to scourge human beings (pro-
vided they are poor and wretched) for their sins, while all the others
spring from natural causes ?

In the very first year of the pestilence (1832) consumption carried
to the grave double the number of those who fell victims to the epide-
mic, in this country. But cholera came from God, while consumption
comes from climate! This doctrine is scarcely less impious than
preposterous. More than one half of the towns, villages, and hamlets
of England, entirely or almost entirely escaped the dire visitation ergo,
there were no sins to be punished in these favoured spots. Of the two
universities, Oxford [the poor of] was scourged, while Cambridge re-
mained free ergo the poor inhabitants of Oxford were wicked, while the
fat professors and the virtuous youths of both seminaries \vere the chosen
people ! Glasgow, where stands the colossal statue of John Knox, was
desolated by cholera ; but Rome, where the lady in scarlet is considered
to hold her court, has hitherto remained free from the pestilence !
Some thousands of infants at the breast perished FOR THEIR SINS !
Almost the whole of the profligate, irreligious, debauched, cruel, un-
charitable, but wealthy population were shielded, by the arm of the
Almighty, from the destroying angel that swept off the poor, and left
their widows and orphans to mourn in misery and want! Such is the
dispensation of Providence, as propounded ex cathedra, and very gene-
rally believed, especially in North Britain ! That vice, provided it was
conjoined with want, was a frequent victim to the pestilence, cannot be
denied. But the observation applies to all diseases as well as to cholera.
Let the same vice be well fed and clothed, and Providence will send no
cholera to such quarters.

Again. If there be (and I firmly believe there is) a future state of
rewards and punishment, is it quite safe to represent the Divinity as
constantly employed in chastising sin in this world, by means of poverty
and pestilence always ready in fact

" To deal damnation round the land
On each we judge his foes?"

This propensity to exhibit the Creator of the universe for ever inter-
fering with the general laws which he established, and punishing by
temporal adversity or affliction, those who suffer on this earthly stage,

Grecians had a" FEAST, after the ceremony of exorcism : the Caledonians, a FAST. The
plague ceased immediately on the plains of Troy ; the cholera was invariably aggravated
by fasts, fumigations, and segregations, in the valleys of the north !


is one of the greatest blots on the Christian character, and is little less
than an argument against a future state of rewards and punishments.

And here I would ask the advocate of the divine origin of cholera, for
the rationale of all those human means of prevention and cure which
they unanimously and strenuously employ to arrest the pestilence sent
forth by the express command of God ? Prayer is unobjectionable ;
but what shall we say to fumigation and chloride of lime ?

To return to Inverness. The eloquence, the fervour, and, I have no
doubt, the conscientious zeal of the preacher had all the effects which
he could desire, on the general mass of the audience. That sermon, I
do think, sent some to their graves by cholera, who would otherwise
have escaped ! The ghastly features, the quivering lip, the upturned
eye, the heaving bosom all showed how effectually the denunciations
from the pulpit were predisposing to, and aiding the epidemic influence,
which was spreading over the land. Inverness suffered severely and
so did Scotland generally. No wonder. Terror was the prime auxi-
liary of the natural causes which occasioned cholera; and the injudi-
cious orations from some of the pulpits gave an additional power of de-
structiveness to the epidemic.

I have not made these observations without some study of the sub-
ject; and should the dire scourge ever again visit the banks of the
NESS, I would advise the eloquent preacher to teach the more rational,
philosophic, and Christian doctrine : that man was placed here below,
under general laws, that were dispensed equally to the just and unjust
that these laws were not interrupted or superseded to punish vice in
the poor man, and give immunity to the rich that vices and crimes
naturally draw on the perpetrators certain physical and moral punish-
ments in this world, in accordance with the laws imposed on it by the
Creator; but not of divine interpositions that the balance of virtue
and vice was to be struck in another state of existence, and not on this
globe, since even the most inexorable judge, on earth, would not punish
twice for the same crime that it is little less than impious in man to
denominate visitations of sickness as judgments for sins, seeing that the
most profligate often escape, whilst the most virtuous suffer and,
finally, that the impulse to religion and morality should rest more on
the hope of future happiness, than on the fear of temporal affliction.



I am ashamed to say that till lately I was very little acquainted with
the controversy respecting the vitrified forts in Scotland, so long car-
ried on between antiquarians, geologists, and mineralogists. At Inver-
ness, however, my curiosity was excited by the account which a young
geologist gave us at the inn, as to the exquisite specimen which was to
be seen on the neighbouring mountain of Craig Phaedric. Four of us
started early, one fine morning, and crossing the river and the canal,
climbed through a steep woody acclivity and reached the summit of a co-
nical mountain, about eleven hundred feet high, where we found ourselves
in the vitrified fort. The top of the hill is in the form of a shallow oval
cup set in a saucer, nearly filled with some solid substance, the edges of
which, (those parts of them, at least, that were uncovered by earth,
grass, and brush-wood,) being composed of masses of rock, exactly re-
sembling lava. The south side of Craig Phaedric consists of a series of
precipices and huge masses of rock, all the way down to the plain.
We examined this side of the mountain with great care and labour,
chipping off pieces of the rock, during the whole descent. They were
all composed of the same substance as that which constituted the two
walls, interior and exterior, above mentioned. Having detached a piece
from a mass of rock half the size of St. Paul's, near the foot of the
mountain, I showed it to the geologist at the inn, who pronounced it to
be a very fine specimen of the vitrified fort on the summit of Craig
Phsedric ! Then, said I, one side of the mountain at least, if not both
sides, is composed of the same kind of substance which you now hold
in your hand. The geologist was astonished, and expressed a determi-
nation to re-examine the mountain farther.

lu my own mind, not a shadow of doubt remains that Craig Phaedric
is a volcanic mountain that its summit was the crater of an extinct
volcano that advantage was taken of the locality, to form a fort or
place of defence and that the rocks were vitrified by subterranean fire,
and not by human art. That the masses of lava, now existing on the
summit and sides of Craig Phaedric, were vitrified by Roman, Celt, or
Sassenach, is about as probable as that the basaltic columns of Staffa
were baked, like bricks, in the Cave of Fingal, converted into an oven for
that purpose; or that the Giants' Causeway was fused in a tinker's
crucible, and spilt by accident into the sea, near Ballycastle, in Ireland.

I speak only of CRAIG PH^DRIC, which I have personally examined ;
and I appeal to all those who take trouble or interest in the matter, to
decide this question. That the conical hills of Scotland were the result


of subterranean fire, rather than of superincumbent water, few will now
deny : and that localities of this kind should be selected for defensive
positions, in times of war, there is every probability ; but that such su-
perhuman efforts should have been used to fuse whole mountains of
stone, in the cheerless wilds of Caledonia, to resist the darts and arrows
of savages, is a conception worthy of an antiquary, and of an antiquary
only. The cui bono ? may also be asked. Of what use was this fusing
or vitrifying of the stones composing the walls of these hill-forts ? There
was no cannon in those days to batter them, nor is it likely that the
savages then existing had catapultas or battering rams. The large
stones piled together were just as good defence as after vitrifaction. The
assailants must have been pretty considerably stupid not to climb over
these stones whether vitrified or not.


Between Inverness and Craig Phaedric, the eye encounters a fantastic
mount or knoll, starting suddenly from the plain, and, apparently, the
alluvial fragment or relic of an earlier world, which doggedly maintained
its post, while the whole of its neighbours were hurried headlong into
the Murray Frith, during a convulsive pang of nature that rent old
Scotland in twain, and saved the Caledonian Canal Company a vast
expense afterwards. It is not inaptly compared to a gigantic ship, cap-
sized and keel upwards, with trees instead of barnacles on her bottom.
That such a curious and unaccountable piece of ground should be ten-
anted by kelpies and other creatures of imagination, is not wonderful ;
but how it came to be assigned as the tumulus or tomb of Thomas the
Rhymer, is not so clear. Certainly it would serve as a barrow to cover
all that ever departed this life in Inverness and twenty miles around,
without giving them cause for complaint as to room for swinging their
hammocks. Be this as it may, I little expected to find that TOM-NA-
HEURICH had given birth to the original RIP VAN WINKLE, and Rip's
brother, some centuries before Yates appeared in the character of Pro-
teus, or Washington Irving took crayon in hand. Let us hear the
legend of the knoll. Several hundred years ago, two itinerant musi-
cians (fiddlers) arrived in Inverness, and gave public notice of their
attainments and entertainments. In a short time after their arrival,
they were waited on by a venerable old gentleman, with a long grey
beard, who engaged their services for company assembled at a castle in
the neighbourhood. The contract was soon closed, and old grey-beard
conducted them, in the night, to a palace of which they were ignorant,


and whose name they were not told. They found there an assembly of
august personages, who danced merrily during a long night, and plied
the tired fiddlers with abundance of excellent whiskey. Whether or not
the musicians had a nap in the morning, is not recorded ; but they were
next day dismissed, with handsome recompense for their labours. They
had scarcely issued however from the portals of the palace, when the ma-
jestic fabric disappeared, and they found themselves on the brow ofToM-
NA-HEURICH ! This circumstance quickened, rather than retarded their
pace back to Inverness, where a phenomenon still more astonishing
greeted their eyes. In the course of a single night, the town had so
entirely altered its appearance, that they could not easily recognize it as
the place which they had left the preceding evening. There were new
houses where no houses had stood and old houses, where new ones
had been just finished. The whole town had grown much larger
the inhabitants were dressed differently from what they had been their
language, even, was altered the names over the shop-doors and inns
were changed and not a human being could they find of their former
acquaintances ! Their inquiries were listened to with surprise, and their
tale was treated with ridicule. They were considered by some as lu-
natics by others as impostors. They resorted to their instruments ;
but their music was as antiquated as themselves. At length an old
man, who attentively hearkened to their narrative, and sedulously
brushed up his memory, recollected a story of his grandfather respecting
two musicians who, about a hundred years before, had left the town late
one evening were seen crossing the ferry in a boat, without any ferryman
and were afterwards observed by a peasant, hastily ascending TOM-
NA-HKURICH. They were never afterwards seen, and their friends con-
cluded that they had either been carried off by the kelpies, or kidnapped
and sent to the colonies. The fiddlers were now astonished in their turn,
and began to survey each other, with fear and trembling. It being
Sunday, they repaired to the church ; but the clergyman had no sooner
opened the Bible and pronounced the name of God, than the two musi-
cians crumbled into a handful of dust.

Here then we have the story of RIP VAN WINKLE, in a slightly modified
version, by substituting Thomas Lermont for Old Hudson. But Geoffrey
Crayon may have gone higher than Inverness for the original of Van
Winkle : though the constant influx of Highlanders into America, laden
more with legendary than with any other kind of lore, may create suspi-
cions as to the source whence he drew the story of RIP VAN WINKLE.



It is hardly possible to contemplate the great valley of the Ness, with-
out coming to the conclusion that the German and Atlantic Oceans
once communicated through this long and narrow chasm, thus separat-
ing Caledonia into two distinct parts. But if so, how comes a lake now
in the centre, some ninety feet higher than the level of either ocean ?
It may be accounted for, by supposing that the high or mountainous
banks of this strait fell in during some earthquake or convulsion, so as
to block up the chasms in two or three places say at Inverness and
Fort Augustus, thus insulating, as it were, the site of Loch Ness. The
consequence would be that the lake would gradually rise, by the streams
from the mountains, till the water found an exit, as at present, into the
Murray Frith. Thus Loch Ness and Loch Lochy would be formed
high above the level of the sea, and consisting of fresh water instead of
salt. Suppose the mouth of Loch Etive to be dammed up by fragments
from the adjacent mountains (as at the Trosachs) the rampart or dam
being ninety feet high. The lake, which is now salt, would gradually
become fresh, and rise, till an exit was found over the obstructing
mound; and then, instead of the rapids, observed now, at ebb tide, we
shou d have a waterfall of ninety feet in height, into Loch Linhe.

Supposing again, that this state continued for some centuries, and
another convulsion tore away the mound, or great part of it, and allowed
Loch Etive to empty all its acquired height of waters into the sea ; we
should then have parallel roads all round the lake, ninety feet above its
then level.

Although nature seemed determined to block up this inland strait
in several places, the nineteenth century, and the march of intellect,
have been able to connect, not only the scattered lakes with one another,
but the German with the Atlantic Ocean ! The construction of the
Caledonian Canal was truly a national UNDERTAKING at least in the
funereal sense of the word for the nation buried here about a million
and a half of money, never to rise again ! During the revolutionary and
the imperial war, indeed, John Bull was the greatest UNDERTAKER in
Europe. He buried millions, annually, on the plains of Marengo, Aus-
terlitz, Friedland, and various celebrated graveyards besides heaving
many spare millions injto the Nile, the Danube, the Scheldt, and the
Vistula ! Not content with the thriving trade of UNDERTAKER, he
turned PAWNBROKER also, and advanced large sums to various noble
personages abroad upon very slender securities namely, their word of


honour ! I believe there has not been a single pledge redeemed, and
duplicates of their tickets might now be purchased in Downing-street,
for a very small sum.

In respect to the Caledonian Canal, if a new Berigonium was to rise
from its ashes, on the western extremity of this magnificent aqueduct,
to vie with Inverness, on the eastern, the canal would never return
two shillings and sixpence per cent., in the shape of profit. Still, it
gave employment to several thousand poor Scotch and Irish labourers
for twenty years and in this respect the UNDERTAKING speculation was
nmch better than the PAWNBROKING adventure*. A couple of steamers
seem to be the principal carriers of commerce and tourists on this canal ;
for the idea of ships from the Baltic taking this route, appears to be
altogether chimerical. There does not, indeed, seem to be any possible
circumstance or concourse of circumstances that can ever give commer-
cial importance to the Caledonian Canal. If the Orkney and Shetland
Islands were to take a fit of fertility, and pour forth corn, wine, and
oil as plentifully as the banks of the Arno, the trade to Oban through
this canal would be very little increased. The products above men-
tioned would find better markets, and less circuitous channels.

The scenery along this stupendous canal presents more of the wild
and sublime, than of the beautiful and picturesque. In the intervals
between the locks we see genuine specimens of Highland life, and High-
land habitations. Some parts of the Sapphic Ode which Dr. Johnson
penned in the Isle of Sky, are very applicable to this place :

" Permeo terras, ubi nuda rapes
Saxeas miscet nebulis ruinas,
Torva ubi rident steriles colon!
Rura labores.

Pervagor gentes, hominum ferorum
Vita ubi nullo decorata cultu
Squallet informis, tugurique fumis
Foeda latescit."

* It is curious that comparatively few of the native and neighbouring Highlanders
availed themselves of the high pay which was given for labour on this canal; so that
the work was chiefly done by Irish and Lowland labourers, though the system of eject-

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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 18 of 28)