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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sum total of a laborious, anxious or useless existence."



The drive over Westminster-bridge suggested, not one of those sapient
oaths which our Cockney ancestors used to take at Highgate-arch (when
they ventured so far) but a resolution to do that which thousands had
previously attempted, with little success viz. to dismiss care on the
northern bank of the Thames, for six or eight weeks, and leave that
article where I found it in MODERN BABYLON. A retrospective glance
at the metropolis, its innumerable spires piercing the canopy of car-
bonaceous vapour that hung over it, and various tumultuous reminis-
cences of the passions, anxieties, and sorrows that harass the million
and a half of human beings concentrated within its precincts, admo-
nished me that it would have been more magnanimous, as well as
patriotic, to carry on my own shoulders my individual burthen of care,
rather than fling it back where there was already a superabundance of
the evil. But the human mind is seldom at a loss for arguments in
favour of its own impulses. The little mite of care, thought I, which
has been left on the other side of the river, will not be felt in the great
load which weighs on the metropolis, while its dismissal will be a happy
deliverance for myself. I also recollected that it was in this whirlpool
of perturbations, I had picked up this load of care and to the same
emporium I was determined to return it at least for a time. Never
did imperial tyrant impose his taxes more rigorously on abject slave,
than does Modern Babylon levy her mental and bodily assessments on
her pallid and care-worn inhabitants ! There is a strong disposition in
mankind to evade taxation especially when laid upon health or happi-
ness. No wonder, then, that so many labourers in the departments of
literature, science, law, divinity, physic and even the mechanical arts,
should make an annual effort to escape, for a short period, from the
harpies, the vampyres, the incubi of avocation, mental and corporeal,
which torment, exhaust, and oppress their bodily health and intellec-
tual energies in the capital ! If, in congregated masses of society,
there be sources of excitement and pleasure which cannot be found in
rural retirement, it is equally certain that these excitements have their
limits and their consequences, which soon incapacitate their votaries for
the enjoyment of them. These votaries of town pleasures and modish
frivolities, however, have, generally, the means of changing the scene,
when the senses are sated ; and they can fly to the lakes or the moun-
tains, the coast or the country, when the tide of fashion ebbs from the
banks of the Thames, or the dust and smoke of the metropolis become
troublesome to their eyes and lungs. Yet, when all the birds of passage


have taken wing for more favoured skies when the swallows and the
woodcocks, the cuckoos and nightingales of London, have diverged
to every point of the compass, the diminution of the metropolitan popu-
lation is scarcely sensible. But after the aristocracy, the hierarchy, and
the squierarchy have withdrawn to their villas and country mansions
and while the adventurous tourist explores the Helvetian, ^Cambrian,
and Caledonian mountains while the poet seeks the lakes, the painter
the woodlands, and the sportsman the moors then, we see inferior, but
larger masses of society, wing their flight to less distant stations, and
perform their orbits in less eccentric circles. The chalky cliffs, the
azure "ocean, the refreshing breezes of Margate, Ramsgate, and the coast
of Sussex, return a very profitable per centage, in the shape of health,
to the calculating merchant, or shopkeeper, who takes a ticket for the
season at the Steam Navigation Office ; while a cheaper, but somewhat
inferior article of this precious commodity is furnished by Hampstead
and Highgate by Mussellhill and Blackheath by Richmond and
Harrow by Norwood and Beulah. Even the prodigious mass of
human beings, whom necessity compels, or inclination induces to breathe
the dense atmosphere of the metropolis, throughout the year, have a
weekly opportunity of gulping a few mouthfuls of diluted hydrogen gas,
in the parks and squares of London !

It is fortunate for this last and largest class of the metropolitan popu-
lation, that, the extensive emigration of their more fortunate fellow
citizens, in summer and autumn, purifies, in some degree, the atmosphere
of modern Babylon, by diminishing the consumption of oxygen, the ex-
trication of gas, the generation of smoke, the macadamization of granite
and last, not least, the irritation of politics ! In fact, the air is more
pure, the houses more healthy, the streets more pleasant, when we fly
from, than when we rush to, the British metropolis.

The aspirations for country air by the inhabitants of crowded cities, is
no modern mania no fashionable or temporary impulse, generated by
the whim of the day. No. It is grounded on a firmer basis, and has
prevailed in every age and country in Babylon of the East, Babylon of
the West, and Babylon of the North.

" O Rus, quando te aspiciam ! "

gives some idea of the horrors or the hell of Rome, during the SEASON,
before the patricians and the poets of that city rushed annually to their
mountain villas and maritime retreats. As for the country, which Horace
so ardently apostrophises, the Romans had none to retire to in Italy
and thei'efore we need not wonder that the summits of the hills were
crowned with stately mansions, and that the senators and citizens actually


pushed their marine villas into the ocean, to avoid the deadly heat, and
still more deadly malaria of the valleys and plains *.

Not so with London. In whatever direction its citizens radiate from
the central magnet, health and refreshment meet them on every gale, and
salute them at every step.


The valetudinary traveller in pursuit of health, and the commercial
traveller in search of ORDERS, may, no doubt, find, in the south of Eng-
land, the objects of their wishes and their wants; but the professional
tourist, from Paternoster-row or Albemarle-street, seeking materials for
his TOMES, had better follow the example of the dromedary in the desert,
and carry his provender in his own pouch. The greater part of England
is utterly destitute of the primary and essential elements of a picturesque
tour. No romantic RUINS crowning every cliff and eminence no snow-
capt Alps or Apennines, to surprise and refresh the eye no stupendous
glaciers or frozen rivers descending slowly through the gorges of the
mountains no foaming cataracts rushing over rugged precipices no
" lake of the dismal swamp," like the Pontines of Italy, or the savannahs
of America, to arrest his progress, or harrow up his feelings no deadly
marshes to give him a malaria fever no swarms of mendicants to excite
his pity or disgust, in every town and village no DOUANE, to air his
baggage on the road no police or passport-office to number his years,
calculate the angle of his nose, paint his complexion, or register his
avocation no rugged chaussee to jog his memory or stir up his bile no
gendarmes to poke a bayonet in his face when entering a gateway
no civil or military tyranny to excite his ire no priestcraft or miracles
to call forth his scepticism or contempt no monuments of antiquity to
kindle his historical recollections no amphitheatres to demonstrate the
proficiency of our ancestors in the art and science of manslaughter no
processions of the HOST to put infidels on their knees when they refuse
to pray no sirocco or tramontane, by way of change of air on the road
no fragrant odours floating on the gale no graceful vines festooned
from tree to tree no burning suns or brilliant skies no arid rocks or
barren wastes to exercise his pen or pencil no despot's spy to entrap
him into a dungeon not even a brigand to entertain him in the moun-
tains, and acquaint his friends with the safety of his retreat no croco-
diles on the banks of rivers to divert him by swallowing tigers and
drowning buffaloes no pyramids on the plains to show how a redundant

* From Terracina to Naples, the sea was encroached upon, to escape the heat of the
earth !


population was usefully employed in constructing mansions for the kings
of Egypt, and the subjects of travelling resurrection men no volcanoa
to illuminate our long dark nights, and bury a city, now and then, for
the benefit of antiquaries in the 36th century !

These are awful truths, to which Britons must subscribe these are
irremediable evils to which the tourist in search of the terrible, the pic-
turesque, and the sublime, must submit ! There are many people, how-
ever, in this country, of such narrow views and chilly imaginations, that
they not only attempt to extenuate the palpable deficiency, or rather the
titter poverty of England, in all the foregoing interesting and exciting
features, but, by a strange and bigoted sort of prejudice, maintain that
this poverty or deficiency is an advantage ! Picturesque ruins, say they,
are too often emblems of national decline the few which present them-
selves in England being memorials of vassalage abolished and natural
rights restored Alps and Apennines produce no hay or corn glaciers are
only good for the ibex and the hunter waterfalls cannot be navigated by
steam-boats or coal-barges mendicants are better in the poor-houses
than in the streets custom-houses are pest-houses, and proper only in
gea-ports passports are fitter for slaves than free-men, who have a right
to go where they like on lawful occasions gendarmes are an inferior
species of " unboiled lobsters," whose claws are tipped with steel instead
of wood priestcraft, miracles, and hosts are unnecessary where there is
rational religion Highland huts and whiskey are preferable to brigand
caves and rosoglio hops are handsomer than vines, and far more whole-
some a clouded sky is not seldom better than a dazzling sun salmon
and trout, in our rivers, are more edible and marketable fish than sharks
and crocodiles a redundant population may be more usefully employed
in constructing rail-roads for the living, than catacombs for the dead
volcanos are fine objects for the painter, but dangerous neighbours for
the peasant, lime being a much better manure for the ground than lava
or pumice-stone ; and one manufacturing city being more useful to the
community than half a dozen of buried ones finally, say these John
Bulls, the " blue police," or street-walkers of London, are preferable to
the invisible spies of the Savarys, the Doges, the Popes, and the despots
of other countries *.

If the traveller in search of the sublime, the romantic, or the pic-

* That intelligent, amusing, and veracious traveller, Prince Puckler Muskau, asserts
that there are four things in which French travelling is superior to English viz.:
climate, eating and drinking, cheapness, and sociability. I enter my decided protest
against the better and cheaper provender. At the table d'h&te you pay from '2s. 6d. to
3*. 4d. for a farrago of " dishes tortured from their native taste," swimming in oil, and
redolent of garlic with a bottle of sour wine, which costs the maitre d'hotel four pence,


turesque, should he disappointed in the south of England, it does not
follow that the philosopher and the philanthropist should find themselves
in the same predicament. If it be true that, in perfect health, the mind
is unconscious of any of the numerous and complicated operations going
on in the body ; so it is probable that, the fewer the objects of vivid ex-
citement in a country, the better it is for the inhabitants. But Great
Britain is by no means deficient in objects of reflection for the contem-
plative tourist; and is, in reality, as interesting to foreigners, as other
countries are to Englishmen. We often fly abroad, however, in quest of
novelty, when we do not know, or do not appreciate the variety of scenes
and circumstances, on our own soil, and close within our grasp, which are
capable of affording health and pleasure, at small expense of time or
money, to almost every class of travellers.

While the foregoing reflections were passing rapidly through the mind,
the horses were left nearly to their own discretion, which, by the bye, is
often greater than that of their riders or drivers. Turnpike gates are
unfailing remembrancers of one of the peculiarities of England viz. :
good roads, heavy tolls, and insolent collectors. That at Deptford, re-
minded us that we were now to travel in a different kind of vehicle,
where our ideas as well as our bodies were to move at a quicker pace.


If an imaginative Greek or Roman were to rise from his grave, and
behold an English steamer in full operation, he would be equally puzzled
and surprised. He would be apt to conclude that after ages (as re-
spected his first incarnation) had given birth to some huge and mon-
strous hybrid animal the offspring of earth and ocean a monster that,
at one and the same moment, flies through the air, by means of water ;
and skims along the surface of the sea, by means of fire a master
tyrant who imprisons conflicting elements in his Vulcanian paunch
elements, whose gigantic struggles for victory or freedom, are employed
to work the iron wings that impel this mighty monster through air
and ocean !

and the traveller a fit of colic, if not of cholera. Now, I aver, that a better or wholesomer
dinner than roast beef and brown stout never smoked on a French table. Ask for such a
thing for " bceuf au naturel " in France; and what do they give you ? the fat of a
pig engrafted on the flesh of a cow ! Besides, the German prince did not calculate very
nicely. He admits that an English stage-coach goes two miles for the diligence's one
therefore, unless we fast every second day, our provender costs us just double, in the
same number of miles, what it does in England I This is putting TIME out of the
question, which might not be worth much, in Puckler Muskau's case, but is somewhat
valuable to Englishmen.


Deep in the womb of this moving volcano, we see the fires of Etna
glowing cauldrons boiling pumps playing chains clanking Ixion's
wheels revolving steam roaring and volumes of smoke belching up-
wards to darken the skies with artificial clouds !

Meanwhile, " THE GATHERING" takes place, with more speed and
certainty, than if Roderick Dhu's henchman was flying from glen to
glen, displaying the dreadful signal of " battle, murder, and sudden
death." From every quarter of Modern Babylon (the grand rendez-
vous or " muster-place of Lanric Mead") troops are pouring in, with
smoother names, perhaps, but with more varied characters, costumes,
and physiognomy than the " fiery cross" ever collected, when

" Fast as the fatal symbol flies,
In arms the huts and hamlets rise ;
From winding glen, from upland brown,
They poured each hardy tenant down."

The "gathering" was for the mountains, valleys, and lochs of Scot-
land ; but with far different objects in view than those which urged the
sons of Clan Alpine to obey their chieftain's call.

If the UNITED KINGDOM (I mean the STEAMER) had been blown away
to some terra incognita in the Arctic or Antarctic regions, or to some
unknown Juan Fernandez in the Pacific Ocean, and there stranded, she
would have carried with her the elementary constituents of a new com-
munity, on a much larger scale than did the Ark of Noah, when she
grounded on Mount Ararat or the bark of Deucalion and Pyrrha,
when she cast anchor on Parnassus. It is probable, indeed, that the
ark contained a larger proportion of the wild animals, (as lions, tigers,
mammoths, and rattlesnakes,) than did " the UNITED KINGDOM." But
as far as man and domestic animals were concerned, we had a wonder-
ful superiority over Noah and Deucalion.

We had JUDGES, who, having recommended a trip to Tyburn or
Australia, to several of their countrymen (by way of change of scene)
had wisely summed up in favour of a trip to Ayrshire for themselves
SENATORS, who had impaired their own constitutions, while patching
that of the state, and were on their way to the mountains for recruit of
health JUVENILE VETERANS from the Horse-Guards, with Polybius in
hand, to reconnoitre the pass of Killicrankie and the field of Culloden
BARRISTERS, who had exhausted their briefs, and the purses of their
clients, in the dense atmosphere of the courts, and were now intent on
a brief vacation in the country DOCTORS, who, having killed or dis-
abled a sufficient number of fashionables, in the season, were winding
up the annual account, by killing time itself, till the town again filled
TAILORS from Bond-street, who, being tired of measuring the " Co-



riuthian pillars of the state," were making a fashionable tour to the
Hebrides, to measure the basaltic columns of StafFa BOARDING-SCHOOL,
MISSES, from Hackney and Hammersmith, with their papas and mammas,
determined to see the procession of Roderick Dhu's barge on Loch
Katrine, and the battles of the wild " Hielandmen" among the Trosachs
AIDES-DE-CAMP from the Autocrat, bound to the valley of Glencoe and
the Cave of M'Leod, to collect hints for the next imperial ukase, en-
titled " Punishments in Poland" French SAVANS, on a voyage to the
Arctic regions of Sky, in search of materials for a folio volume of ad-
ventures, to make the Parisians stare* ANGLERS and FOWLERS, enough
to depiscate (may I use the term ?) half the streams and depopulate
half the moors of Scotland ANTIQUARIANS bound for Beregonium, to
examine the remains of a city that never existed MINERALOGISTS on a
journey to Craig Phaedric, to chip off pieces of lava or pumice-stone
from the summit or side of a volcanic mountain, as specimens of vitrified
forts ALDERMEN from Bucklersbury, to exude a portion of green fat
and callipash, on the sides of Ben-Lomond HEBREWS, from Change-
alley and Monmouth-street, to ventilate and purify, as a peace-offering
to cholera and a preparation for their new franchises BANKERS, from
Lombard-street, going to compare notes with their Scotch correspondents
IRVINITES, on a voyage to the Orkneys, to procure a supply of Norse
tongues for Babel Chapel, in Regent-street candidates for the Travel-
ler's Club, going to cross the Tay at Dunkeld, over the PONS ASINORUM,
that was to qualify for admission Tourists of all characters and calibres;
some to make a tour simply ; some to write a tour badly ; but the
greater number to talk of a tour incessantly afterwards POLITICAL
ECONOMISTS, on their way to Garveloch, to witness Miss Martineau's
millennium in the straths and glens, where, by a kind of modern
alchemy, peasants have been transmuted into black cattle, women into
sheep, and children into lambs ; where farms have been enlarged by the
rule of SUBTRACTION, and rents doubled by that of REDUCTION : to the
great benefit of mankind, and the encouragement of emigration
PLANTERS, from Jamaica, on a classical tour to the Isle of RUM NABOBS
from the East ; civil, military, and mercantile ; some with the com-
plexion of a star pagoda ; some as pallid as a sicca rupee ; and others

* Mons. Panckouke, who is now publishing, in magnificent folio numbers, his
"Voyage Pittoresque aux Isles Hebrides," tells us that, ''dans ces parages, 1'atmosphere
est tnujours chargee des nonages Epaies" and in the second livraison, he assures us
that the sun never showed his cheerful face for more than six weeks, in the middle of
summer, and then only for a few minutes, just to gild the mountains of Mull! "Le
soleil, que nous n'avions pas vue depuis plus de six semaines, dora la mer et les sommite'g
des Isles." p. 16. This is admirable !


as blue as Asiatic cholera ; hut all moved hy the same nostalgic im-
pulse, to revisit their native glens and mountains SUGAR-BAKERS,
from Goodman's-fields, to cool their coppers on the ocean, after being
overheated by ginger and the juice of the cane from the Antilles
CANTABS, with their tutors, going to study spherics in the Isle of Egg,
and conic sections among the Paps of Jura OXONIANS, to collate Greek
and Gaelic in the monumental inscriptions of lona, and demonstrate
the existence of a Deity by the form of the arches in Fingal's Cave*
AMBASSADORS from the king of Tahiti, on their way to the north, to
dissuade the Scotch from worshipping idolatrous images of gold and
silver HOLLANDERS from the Zuyder-Zee, travelling to Inverness, to
ascertain the fact, or rather to expose the fiction, of large Baltic ships
sailing through the Highland mountains, at the rate of ten miles an
hour, against the wind, thus eclipsing the exploits of their own " flying
Dutchman" at the Cape HEROES of the SOCK and BUSKIN, migrating to
the Land of Cakes, with the laudable intention of making Sawney's
sides shake with laughter at mimic scenes of merriment on the stage ;
an enterprize at all times difficult, but, in cholera times, impossible
Agents from a new joint-stock company, going to plant vines and olives
in the Isle of Sky MISSIONARIES from Ave-Maria-lane ; not to convert
the Clan Alpines to Christianity ; but to convert old rags and thread-
bare tartans into foolscap for circulating libraries YOUTHFUL POETS,
hoping to " build the lofty verse," among the mountains of Morven, and
season it with sublimity on the banks of the roaring Cona TALE-
BEARERS from the Chesapeake, collecting Highland traditions for the
Transatlantic marketf DIPLOMATISTS from Downing-street, going to
collect their scattered thoughts in the mountains, while preparing a
second edition of Belgi-Batavian protocols PHARMACOPOLISTS, whose
very mortars had become hoarse with the influenza, and whose phials
were drained of their wrath, on a visit to St. Andrew's, preparatory to
rising a degree in their profession, before the next epidemic harvest
younger branches of the NOBILITY, taking the benefit of sea air (not at
all for the sake of economy) on an autumnal visit to the towers of some
friendly Tully-veolan or Bradwardine, for change of scene, and of com-
plexion GRID-IRONMONGERS, from Kensington, to grill Scotch collops
in the Lothians AGITATORS, seeking tranquillity of mind in locomotion
of the body CONSERVATIVES, flying from the " West end," to pre-
serve the remnants of a shattered constitution new-made MEMBERS of
the IMPERIAL, going to try the patience of a Scotch congregation, by

* See Palmers Prize Poem on Staffa, Oxford, 1832.

| See, farther on, the original of Rip van Winkle, in the two fiddlers of Tom Na-

c 2


long-winded speeches about nothing at all MANDARINS, from Leaden-
hall-street, with faces much longer than the leases of their tea-shops.

These, and some scores of other personages, whose characters and
pursuits were not immediately legible in their looks or language, were
quickly assembled on the deck of the steamer a locality by no means
adverse to the interchange of information, or the elicitation of thought
and reflexion. The size and celerity of a vessel of this description,
induce thousands of the better classes of society to travel annually by
steam, who would not embark in sailing packets ; and the consequence
is, that a large mass of intelligence as well as of amusement is concen-
trated within a narrow compass, surrounded by wooden walls without
gates, and a formidable moat without a drawbridge, and that too under
the most favourable circumstances for social converse and intellectual
reciprocities. In the steamer, each individual considers himself, for
the time, as in a mask and domino, unfettered by introductions or recog-
nitions and what is better, on a perfect equality with his neighbour.
The banker and the baker, the marchioness and the milliner, the senator
and the tailor, pay the same fare, and are entitled to the same accom-
modations. There is no weather side of the quarter-deck for grandees,
and lee side for inferiors. All cabin passengers sit down at the same
table-d'hote, walk the same plank, and repose in similar dormitories.
Having some experience in travelling, I have no hesitation in affirming
that, of all modes of conveyance, the steamer combines the greatest
number of advantages, whether we view it with reference to economy,
comfort, society, or health. The box-seat of a stage-coach, however,
may prefer strong claims of rivalry with the steamer. We there enjoy
the scenery of the country, embrown our complexions, and increase our
appetite ; not always the case at sea. If the coach breaks down, we

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 3 of 28)