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

. (page 19 of 28)
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 19 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ment was then in full force, and thousands were out of employ. Colonel Stewart and
others, have endeavoured to account for this backwardness the/inner by concluding
that the natives were disgusted with their cruel landlords, and a-hamed to work, as day-
labourers, where they had previously lived as small farmers the latter aver that the
preference was given to Irish and Lowlanders, who laboured at an inferior rate of wages
and by cnntract. which threw money into the contractors' pockets. It is probable
that both these arguments are, to a certain extent, just and also that the Highlanders
had an aversion to a species of labour foreign to their habits, and derogatory to their
pride.



160 CALEDONIAN CANAL FALL OF FYERS.

In Loch Ness itself, the banks rise, especially on the north side,
almost perpendicular, to the height of five, six, or seven hundred feet,
and consequently preclude all view of the neighbouring country. The
winds are almost always from one of two points of the compass that is,
in the direction of the Loch, through the channel of which they rush
along, from the east or from the west, with great violence, as through a
tunnel or a funnel.

The Fall of Fyers is the chief lion to be seen, on the southern shore.
Dr. Johnson could never have scrambled up to this place, with his
asthmatic lungs. It was fortunate for him that he approached it by the
military road, and therefore descended to the cataract. There were
only naked rocks when he visited Fyers the water having all run
down into Loch Ness to quench its thirst in the preceding drought. The
skipper of the steamer (the honest little, dapper, and good-natured
Captain Turner) gave us but a very limited time to see the waterfall,
and the race up the mountain's side was not a little diverting ! The
young and the vigorous made directly for the object of attraction, led on
by the mate of the vessel, who would have outstripped an English hunter
at least on this course. A crafty tourist the oldest in the batch
eyed the topography for a minute or two, after landing ; and taking the
zig-zag path, which was treble the distance of the direct route, got to
the waterfall long before any of his juniors, who were not a little sur-
prised to find him there, contemplating the magnificent scene, from a
projecting rock, with perfect composure, while they were so blown by
scrambling up through the furze, the underwood, and the thickets, that
they required some time to recover breath before they could enjoy the
scene.

Although this is one of the best, if not the very best waterfall in
Scotland, I cannot entirely coincide with Dr. Clarke, that it is a finer
fall than that of TIVOLI, and inferior only to TERNI. I have seen
several in Switzerland, which I think superior but, nevertheless, it is
extremely well worth visiting. The lower fall is two hundred and forty
feet, and pours through a narrow gullet, in a round unbroken stream,
whitening as it descends, till it boils and disappears among chasms in
the rock. It has been compared (magna componere parvis) to an
" old Jew's beard" though a white mare's tail (I mean the streaky
cloud of that name) would have been more Ossianic, as well as more
appropriate. The dense mist which rises from the cauldron below, is
said by Mr. Chambers (a very excellent writer, I allow) to be " like
the heavenward aspirations of an afflicted and tortured spirit." Never
having seen these " aspirations" in any sensible form, I am unable to
confirm or contradict the truth of the simile. It is very probable, how-



CALEDONIAN CANAL FORT AUGUSTUS. 161

ever that, from a dense Scotch congregation, labouring under the elo-
quence of an enthusiastic preacher, and where the text was CHOLERA,
the " aspirations" of an affrighted multitude would rise like a dense
riiist from the Fall of Fyevs. In the upper fall, the cascade descends,
by three leaps, through a yawning gulf, and vanishes in the dark ravine,
which is covered with birch, for ever dripping with the spray of the
cataract.

Re-embarking in the steamer, we plough our way amidst wild and
dreary scenery, till we arrive at FORT AUGUSTUS. Here we have a
series of locks to ascend, in order to reach the level of Loch Oich. The
tourist has therefore ample time to see Fort Augustus, and travel on, by
the banks of the Canal to Loch Oich. This august fortress has a gar-
rison of THREE INVALID ARTILLERYMEN ! Mr. Chambers archly ob-
serves that FORT AUGUSTUS, "having long ago accomplished the pur-
pose of its creation (erection I would say) it is now, like Fort George,
perfectly useless a mere superannuated thing, kept in pay, like a pen-
sioner, from gratitude."

What was this purpose of its creation ? To keep the Highlanders
from rising, and moving south ? If so, it has not answered its purpose.
The Highlanders may now rise and march as fast as they please, to the
banks of the Clyde or the Thames. Tant mieux !

When we get into Loch Oich, the scenery becomes more humanized
for, besides the ruins of Glengarry's ancient castle, and the modern
residence of this eccentric chief, we have a monument over a well, into
w hich one of his ancestors coolly threw seven heads cut from the bodies
of his enemies, the Kennedies, with as much sang froid, as a gardener
would lop off seven heads of cabbages for Covent-Garden Market ! That
the Kennedies did not lose their heads, without having previously deca-
pitated at least an equal number of the Glengarries, we may take for
granted, since the Highlanders are too wise a people to pay more than
a fair interest for their money, or return more favours than they
receive.

But we are now ploughing through Loch Lochy, and a wilder scene
of silence, solitude, and sterility than that which surrounds us on all
sides, cannot easily be found or imagined ! If the raids, feuds, and
rebellions of the Highlands did not assure us that MAN had once existed
here, we would naturally conclude that the human foot had never pene-
trated into these gloomy regions. , We are only left the alternative,
that he has deserted these glens and mountains, to seek some more
genial soil. This leads me to a melancholy subject.



162 DEPOPULATION.



DEPOPULATION.

Those who have travelled much through this weary world, at home
or abroad, in the east or in the west, in the north or the south, must
have been struck with one thing remarkable the presence of a Scotch-
man, in every habitable spot on the surface of this globe. In all my
peregrinations (and they have not been few) I found that this was the
only rule without exception. I had long, therefore, pictured Scotland,
in my mind, as a land of more redundant population than China itself,
where it would be very difficult for a stone to fall from heaven, without
lighting on the head of some subject of the Celestial Empire. What
was my astonishment, then, to find the Land of Cakes (especially the
Highlands) more sparingly inhabited than any country through which I
had passed, with the exception, perhaps, of-that very interesting tract
which lies between the Nile and the Red Sea the Sandy Desert ! Eager-
ness to solve problems, is one of the most characteristic traits of the hu-
man mind, though quite overlooked by philosophers, in searching for dis-
tinctions between man and animals. I had formerly, as may be seen,
attributed the dispersion of Scotchmen abroad, to redundancy of popula-
tion at home ; but now I was forced to remodel my theory, or rather to
build up a new one. I was first inclined to cling to a portion of my old
hypothesis, and to consider the paucity of population in Scotland, as the
effect of incessant emigration abroad. These mountains and moors,
these lakes and bogs, these rugged rocks and roaring rivers, that attract
foreigners to the Highlands, have some mysterious power, thought I, of
expelling Highlanders from their native land. And there may be some
truth in this hypothesis after all. The Swiss leaves his romantic moun-
tains and valleys, his glittering glaciers and glassy lakes, to sojourn on
the insipid plains of France, to inhale the malarious poison of Italy, to
smoke cigars and eat sourcrout in Germany, to be stewed in vapour, or
rolled in snow at St. Petersburg, to be drowned in the dykes or the gin
of Holland ; or lastly, to die of nostalgia in the fogs of England. Does
this proceed from the love of change, or the natural desire to better his
condition ? Philosophers must decide. I confess I was not quite satis-
fied with this solution, as applied to the Highlanders ; and therefore
sought for some other. The Scotch, thought I, are a reading and a
reflecting people. They have studied Malthus and Martineau, and are
probably all Malthusians and Martineaus or, at all events, moral
philosophers. They are so much imbued with the love of political
economy, that they have abjured that vulgar impulse, mere physical



DEPOPULATION. 163

love, and practise celibacy for the good of their country. The swarms
of ragged brats and rosy bairns around the door of every cottage, and in
the streets of every village, proved a damper to this hypothesis. One
thing appeared certain, that the wildest parts of the Highlands seemed
capable of supporting, with comfort, triple the number of inhabitants
now existing there provided people could be found to cultivate the
soil*.

After much inquiry, deep cogitation, and some reading, I came, at
length, to the conclusion that WORSTED STOCKINGS and COARSE CLOTH
were the true causes of Highland depopulation. This requires some
explanation. First, I shall quote a passage from a modern traveller, and
a warm advocate of things as they are.

" Since sheep have found their way to those pastures which black
cattle and men once half occupied, this country is one wide and waste
solitude. These its only tenants are invisible to an unpractised eye.
Where three or four shepherds with their dogs can take charge of a dis-
trict of twenty miles in extent, their huts occupying some secluded den
on its outskirts, it is not surprising if we wander for days without seeing
the trace of life ; solitary as if in the sands of Africa, or the immeasur-
able ocean. A world still waiting for its inhabitants, conveys no images
of melancholy ; but the solitude of ruins is the solitude of art, not of
nature. It startles us with the idea of destruction it excites feelings
of pain. In contemplating the untenanted habitation, the ruined and
grass-grown walls, the cold and abandoned hearth, we are struck with
images of misery and death because the scene was once life and mo-
tion."

The above and many other lugubrious meditations are applied by
Dr. MacCulloch to Sutherland; but they are more or less applicable to
the Highlands in general. Thus, then, it appears that the great land-
owners, considering it derogatory to human nature to people their estates
with biped serfs, have humanely and generously recommended their
tenants to change the air to move towards the coast to become free

* History, poetry, romance every thing convinces us that the glens of the Highlands
were formerly more populous than at present. If Rhoderic Dhu's Henchman were to
run with the utmost rapidity, for twenty-four hours, displaying the fiery cross, he would
not now collect half the crowd of warriors that assembled in the Trosachs in one fore-
noon. This, however, is on the authority of poetry which is little better than fiction, at
the best. But we find that, when Haco invaded the peaceful shores of Loch Lomond,
its banks were crowded with populous villages ! Let any one take a turn round the
lake in the little steamer now, and he will find a " plentiful scarcity" of the said villages.
No doubt that Glasgow and the towns have increased in population ; but not so the
moral habits of the people !

M2



164 DEPOPULATION.

and independent fishermen or, to go east, west, or south, and seek their
fortunes while they (the proprietors of the soil) replace the said bipeds
by quadrupeds of the most harmless description, whose fleeces are
turned into worsted stockings and grey eloth, to the great benefit of the
landlord and the quietude of the country. History has but too well
recorded the wars, the massacres, and the feuds of Highlanders. The
great proprietors have wisely put an effectual period to raids and on-
slaughts, thus well deserving the high compliment which was once paid
to Caesar" Ubi solitudinem facit, pacem vocat."

In the agricultural districts, where men could not so easily be con-
verted into sheep, another and ingenious remedy was found for the
much-dreaded evils of redundant population. Ten farms are turned
into one, by which the country is beautified, and the saleable produce is
doubled, by reducing the number of those mouths which would other-
wise devour it. But this measure is not adopted without due. and
humane provision for the ejected cotters. "In the reforms of land,
(says Dr. MacCulloch) for the purpose of crofting, on the new system,
the ejected tenants have generally been provided with new farms (patches
of land) on the sea shores;" " where, with the assistance of shell-fish
caught at low-water, and some casual labour, they contrived to live through
that portion of the summer which was past ; but how the winter was to be
surmounted, it was both too easy and too painful to imagine." In a country
where lakes cover more space than arable ground, it is equally just and
ingenious to make a portion of the redundant population plough the
deep with the keels of their boats, in search of herrings, while the rest
are turning up the soil for the production of grain. The Highlanders
have been accused of laziness. What remedy so efficacious as making
starvation the penalty ? They have been taxed with a strong inclina-
tion for Avhiskey. Nothing so good as sea water for curing this propen-
sity unless that other one, emigration to lands where whiskey cannot
be procured. They are represented as not only indolent and intempe-
rate, but also as vicious and immoral. Adversity has been considered, by
ancient philosophers, as favourable to virtue, and a curb on licentious-
ness. But the wisdom of our ancestors is now too often called in ques-
tion, and one of Dr. MacCulloch's ablest opponents has attacked the
" new system," which has been found to work so beautifully in Ireland,
with arguments like the following :

" But when men are reduced to such a depth of wretchedness that
there is no lower depth ; when they find themselves compelled to sub-
sist for one half of the year upon potatoes and salt, and for the other
upon shell-fish ; when, by the force of habit,' which deadens equally
the sense of misery and the enjoyment of pleasure, men become recon-



DEPOPULATION. 165

cilcd to a bare physical existence having no longer a stake in society,
or any prospect of improving their condition, moral restraint, the main
check to a vicious increase of the population, loses its power, and they
fly to that gratification of which neither the laws of the country nor the
operations of economists can deprive them. They marry and beget
heirs to inherit no other portion than their parents' misery*."

Thus then, since it appears that neither ejectments, nor shell-fish, nor
salt and potatoes, nor poverty in every possible shape, can prevent
Highlanders from marrying and getting children, it follows that Eng-
land, America, our East and West India colonies the whole world, in
fact, has the prospect of being blessed with the presence of Scotchmen,
per omnia secula seculorum ! Amen !



FORT WILLIAM.

Leaving Loch Lochy, the highest level of the Caledonian canal, we
descend, by a series of locks, to Loch Eil, an arm of the sea, and a
continuation of Loch Linhie, at Fort William. This descent is not
inaptly styled NEPTUNE'S STAIRCASE. It would appear that his
marine majesty, when tired of washing himself in the great Atlantic
basin, ascends these stairs, to enjoy the luxury of vapour and shower-
baths, which BIG BEN has always ready, at ten minutes notice, or less,
in the neighbourhood of FORT WILLIAM. Eveiy one knows the answer
which was given by the Highlander to an English traveller, who waited
nine days at this place to see if the shower would cease. " What !



* It is positively asserted by this writer (Exposition, &c.~) that the population has rapidly
increased since the ejectment of tenants and the consolidation of many small farms into
a few large ones. He accounts for it by the reckless misery of the people, who marry
and get children, because they have little else to do, and have lost all moral restraint !
This increase of the population appears to strangers inexplicable. It is, of course, in the
t ow ns for the country population is unquestionably thinned by the new system. This is
confirmed by the testimony of Col. Stewart, in hundreds of places throughout his work
on the Highlands, one example of which will be sufficient. "We have lately seen thirty-
one families, containing one hundred and fifteen persons, dispossessed of their lands, which
were given to a neighbouring stock-grazier, to whom these people's possessions lay
contiguous. Thus, as a matter of convenience to a man who has already a farm of
nine miles in length one hundred and fifteen persons, who had never been a farthing in
arrear of rent, were deprived of house and shelter, and sent pennyless into the world !
The number of similar instances are almost incredible !" Vol. i. p. 201.

But I must quit this melancholy subject. Time will tell whether the increase of po-
pulation in manufacturing towns, and its decrease in agricultural districts, will contri.
bute to the morality, and consequently to the happiness of the people !



166 A HIGHLAND BIVOUAC.

does it always rain here ?" " Na, Sair, it sometimes snaws." In
truth, we have here about three hundred soft days in the year. By
the word " saft," or soft, the Scotchman means an even-down pour ;
and it is what the Yankee would call " stony rain," the Cornishman
" lashing," and what we vulgarly term " raining cats and dogs" in
England.

As the steamer could not descend Neptune's staircase quite so
nimbly as Neptune and Amphitrite, the passengers were ordered on
shore, to take up their quarters for the night at an hotel, placed here
for their accommodations.

After the usual scramble for tea and supper, between a large party
from the steamer, and another from Glen Nevis and Lochaber, we
settled down at last to enjoy our hot whiskey-toddy while Ben Nevis
was pouring his " mountain-dew" in such copious streams against the
roof and windows of the inn, that we sometimes feared the whole
caravansera might be swept into the neighbouring canal.

At a late hour I summoned Peggy to bring me my slippers, and
shew me to bed. Peggy at length appeared, with a lantern, and my
sac de nuit, but no slippers ! I was a little mortified to find that there
was no bed for me in the hotel ; but was encouraged by the hostess,
who assured me that Peggy would conduct me to an excellent bed in
a house close by. Away we posted, in a deluge of rain, at midnight,
and, what was worse, in a dark night to scramble over bank and brae
through mud and mire across torrents and pools for a mile at
least before we reached a regular HUT, with " clay-cold floor," and a
bed as damp as a Ben-Nevis atmosphere could make it. In the course
of this march to my bivouac, I measured my length about twenty times
in the mud and water; but, fortunately, the " mountain-dew," and a
" travelling constitution," aided by a Mackintosh's water-proof cloak,
preserved me from rheumatism ; and, had it not been for a large ark of
oatmeal in the room, to which the rats were " obnoxiously making
approaches" in the night, I should have slept sound under blankets
rendered impermeable by air, in consequence of a plentiful impregnation
of water *.

I was moving towards the steamer, long before the " daughter of the
dawn " had scattered her rosy pearls over the valley of Glen Nevis.



* In another place I have mentioned the curious fact, on the authority of Sir Walter
Scott, that the Highlander, when exposed to the midnight snow, on the mountain, dips
his plaid in water, and, wrapping himself up in this moist mantle, sleeps warm and
comfortahle, till it gets dry, when he repeats the same process again ! Who will talk
about the danger of sleeping in damp beds after this ?



ORIGIN OF A HIGHLAND TOWN. 167

Honest BEN, himself, seemed to have taken an extra cup the preceding
evening ; for his night-cap was still half-way over his face while the
" droning music of the vocal nose" came down, in hoarse murmurs,
from his lofty couch. No ill effects followed this night's adventure ;
and the good nature of all the parties, both at the inn and the cottage,
prevented the slightest feeling of discontent on my part. Accommoda-
tions cannot be expected at inns in the Highlands, in the summer
season, when shoals of tourists are in motion ; but it is justice to say
that every reasonable exertion is made to accommodate the stranger,
even in the wildest and poorest tracts of this interesting country. This
acknowledgment deserves, on their part, some indulgence for any little
sally, or even satire, on the difference between the CLARENDON, in Bond
Street, and the ****, on the Caledonian Canal.

FORT-WILLIAM, on the western extremity of this magnificent con-
duit, is rather inferior to the CYNOSURE of the Highlands, on the
eastern side. The following graphic sketch of the rise and progress of
a Highland town, by a talented traveller, is little known to the gene-
rality of English readers ; and therefore I shall make no apology for
introducing it here.

" In the case of country towns, where a Highland laird or a specu-
lating society has not interfered, it is matter of analysis, for the
fashionable science of political economy, to discover how one of them
has grown, or by what cement it is united. There is a church ; that
is the ordinary foundation. Where there is a church, there must be a
parson, a clerk, a sexton, and a midwife. Thus we account for four
houses. An inn is required on the road. This produces a smith, a
saddler, a butcher, and a brewer. The parson, the clerk, the sexton,
the midwife, the butcher, the smith, the saddler, and the brewer, re-
quire a baker, a tailor, a shoemaker, and a carpenter. They soon learn
to eat plum-pudding ; and a grocer follows. The grocer's wife and
parson's wife contend for superiority in dress ; whence flows a milliner,
and, with the milliner, a mantua-maker. A barber is introduced to
curl the parson's wig, and to shave the smith on Saturday nights ; and
a stationer to furnish the ladies with paper for their sentimental cor-
respondences : an exciseman is sent to guage the casks, and a school-
master discovers that the ladies cannot spell. A hatter, a hosier, and a
linen-draper follow by degrees ; and as children are born, they begin to
cry out for rattles and gingerbread. The parson becomes idle and
gouty, and gets a curate, and the curate gets twenty children and a
wife ; and thus it becomes necessary to have more shoemakers, and
tailors, and grocers. In the mean time, a neighbouring apothecary,
hearing with indignation that there is a community living without



168 GLENROY. PARALLEL ROADS.

physic, places three blue bottles in a window; when, on a sudden, the
parson, the butcher, the innkeeper, the grocer's wife, and the parson's
wife, become bilious and nervous, and their children get water in the
head, teeth, and convulsions. They are bled and blistered, till a physi-
cian finds it convenient to settle : the inhabitants become worse and
worse every day, and an undertaker is established. The butcher having
called the tailor prick -louse, over a pot of ale, Snip, to prove his man-
hood, knocks him down with the goose. Upon this plea, an action for
assault is brought at the next sessions. The attorney sends his clerk
over to take depositions and collect evidence : the clerk, finding a good
opening, sets all the people by the ears, becomes a pettifogging attorney,
and peace flies the village for ever. But the village becomes a town,
acquires a bank, and a coterie of old maids ; and should it have existed
in happier days, might have gained a corporation, a mayor, a mace, a
quarter-sessions of its own, a county assembly, the assizes, and the
gallows."

But the steam is on, and we are ploughing Loch Eil, under the
shadow of Ben Nevis, who, awaking from his slumbers, has doffed his
night-cap, and shewn his countenance, to wish us a prosperous voyage.

The scenery surrounding Loch Eil and Loch Linhie is by far the
best on the run from Inverness to Oban. A vast sea of mountains


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

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 19 of 28)