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 nothing to do with the expenses of repair if we dislocate a
shoulder, the proprietors are bound to put it in again and if a neck be
broken, the doctor's bill will be very short. On the other hand, if the
boiler of the steamer burst, and our vapour-bath prove too hot, we have
a cold one always ready for a plunge, with cork and air jackets to float
us to a friendly shore. If we strike on a rock in a foggy night, Captain
Manby is prepared to heave us a rope, and lift us over the breakers.
Should animation be suspended, in this enterprize, we have the Humane
Society, with JACK FROST, their secretary, supplied with ample materials
for restoring vital heat. Much, therefore, may be said on both sides, as
Uncle Toby said long ago. The very best English stage, indeed, is not
without disadvantages, which are avoided in the steamer. In this last,
we are not annoyed by passengers, who either have colds, and cannot
bear the windows open in the hottest weather ; or asthma, and there-


fore must have fresh air from both sides, whatever may be the tempe-
rature ! Although there may be room enough in this world, for great
and small ; for rich and poor ; such is not always the case in a stage-
coach. If two great men, or great women, come in contact even on the
same political bench, the collisions, during the journey, are often per-
sonally offensive. Who has travelled outside, in a rainy day, without
feeling the favours of his neighbours, who generously bestow the drip-
pings of their umbrellas, without any view to a return in kind ?

The social or colloquial commerce of intellect possesses a feature
which distinguishes it from all other kinds of commerce ; inasmuch as
its merchants do not barter their commodities for money, or for goods
in kind, or indeed of any kind ; but distribute them gratuitously and
bountifully to all who are willing to receive them, and even to many who
are insensible to the gift, and ungrateful to the donor. On this account,
a long-eared animal, with half the patience of that much^injured and
much-enduring tribe,'may pick up and accumulate an immense store of
second-hand wares, with very little expense, and which may be vended
again, in this age of intellect, as spank new commodities. We have all
seen how Jedediah Cleishbotham, in his arm-chair at the Wallace inn
of Gandercleuch, gathered from the travellers, who took up their night's
abode in that humble caravansera, a store of anecdote, history, and
intelligence, which returned him a revenue greater than that of many
a German prince; yet what were his opportunities, compared with
those enjoyed by a modern caterer for the public, who travels by steam,
indites by steam, prints by steam, and diffuses his writings by steam,
all over the world ! Why should we not have " Tales of a Steamer"
as well as of a whiskey-shop ? There are more intelligent personages
in the cabin of the one, than in the chimney corner of the other. But
these hints are thrown out for the benefit of others, not of myself.

And this leads me to the PLEASURES of TRAVELLING. Our bards
have treated us to the " Pleasures of Hope," the " Pleasures of Ima-
gination," and the " Pleasures of Memory ;" but none of them have
favoured us with a poem on the pleasures of travel, which are superior
to all the others put together*. The pleasures of hope too often end in
disappointment those of the imagination, are only imaginary, at the best
while the pleasures of memory are not seldom embittered by recollec-
tions of evils long sustained, and sorrows unassuaged ! The pleasures
of travel are nearly without alloy. If they are more moderate, they are

* Sir Humphry Davy's " Consolations of Travel" can hardly be considered aii
exception. They are ruminations in the clouds, or dreams in the Coliseum, the offspring
of corporeal disorder and exuberant fancy. See his very accurate description of the
inhabitants of Saturn and Jupiter, while asleep in the Flavian Amphitheatre at Home.


more lasting than many other pleasures, being based in improvement
of the mind, and health of the body. The reminiscences, too, of our
peregrinations, are productive of still more pleasure than the act of
travelling, for reasons which philosophers and poets, of all ages, have
amply explained.

" Forsan el hsec, olim meminisse juvabit."


As the clanking engines began to play, and the revolving wheels
dashed the white foam from the vessel's sides, we ranged along a noble
structure on our right, fit residence for an imperial court, but now
standing as a testimony of national gratitude to the sons of the wave.
It is within these walls that we may yet see the companions of Nelson,
St. Vincent, and Duncan men whose blood crimsoned the waters of
Aboukir, Trafalgar, and Camperdown whose members were severed
from their bodies, and sepulchred beneath the tides of the Nile, the
Atlantic, and the German ocean. He who can pass unconcerned these
fading memorials of his country's struggles and his country's fame, is
defective in sensibility, if not in patriotism, and lacks one of those
channels by which external objects make impressions on the mind,
excite reflexion, and humanize the heart.

A stranger approaching CANTON would be apt to conclude that half
the population of that immense city domiciliated from birth till death
on the surface of the Tigris* : a Chinese sailing up the Thames to
London-bridge, would not unnaturally imagine that half the tars of
Old England had returned from various parts of the globe to celebrate
some jubilee, and had piled their ships together, as soldiers pile their
arms, till the festival was over. Not more numerous were the glitter-
ing bayonets that bristled on the plains of Friedland, before the hostile
armies closed, than are the tall masts of commerce, in densely-planted
groves, on the waters of the Thames. If two or three sinuosities on
one bank of the Bosphorus, displaying a Lilliputian fleet of galleys,
xebecs, and row-boats, whose united cargoes might have been stowed
away in the holds of a couple of East Indiamen, were dignified with
the title of " THE PORT," par excellence, what designation does the
THAMES deserve, on whose tides are wafted to and fro, the flags of all
nations, and whose barks crowd every port, from the Hellespont to the
Hudson, from Australia to Iceland t ? Those who have circumnavigated

* The Canton river bears this name.

f Sir Walter Scott puts into the mouth of Sir Walter Raleigh, the following expres-


the almost interminable line of coast which bounds the Isles of Great
Britain surveyed her harbours and adjacent seas sailed from clime
to clime, and met her white cross on: every point of the ocean, in every
anchorage, and on every shore would be almost justified in conclud-
ing that our maritime population falls little short of our territorial.

The shores of the Thames would not impress a stranger with the idea
that he was approaching the greatest metropolis in the world. The banks
of the Tagus, or even of the Clyde, are far more imposing, in this respect,
than those of the Thames. The greater part of the northern shore, indeed,
has few capabilities of embellishment, being best fitted for grazing sheep
and breeding agues ; while the southern border, though highly culti-
vated, swelled into undulations, and finely wooded, is not studded with
villas, and lined with well-built towns and villages, like the banks of
the Clyde nor glittering with castles, convents, towers, churches, and
forts, whiter than Parian marble, and contrasting with the verdure of
the vine, as on the shores of the Tagus.

But old Father Thames appears to be little solicitous about extrinsic
ornament. He seems conscious that, on every flood tide, he heaves
forward the riches of the world, and the rude materials of every clime ;
while with each ebb he rolls back these rude materials transmuted by
the talisman of British machinery, into' the most costly and useful
wares, at once the envy and the admiration of the world.

But the channel widens, the atmosphere clears, the navigation be-
comes less intricate, the crowd of passengers on Neptune's choicest
turnpike road diminishes, and we enter on a new scene.


That admirable poet, Mr. Campbell, has written a most elegant and
amatory epistle to this element or deity, descriptive of her various
charms (for I see no reason why the sea should not be of the same
gender as her sister the earth,) from a romantic headland near St.
Leonard's. Her divinityship is a very old acquaintance of mine ; and
many a year have we travelled together round various portions of this
globe. When in good humour, no lady has a smoother face or a more
smiling countenance ; she then deserves the title of " Mirror of the
Stars," which the poet has given her; but when ruffled in temper, she

sion : " There are two things scarce matched in the universe the sun in heaven, and
the Thames on earth." What would Sir Walter Raleigh now say, could he rise from
the grave and replace his head on its own shoulders ? He would acknowledge that
the Tower presented fewer prisoners, and the Thames more masts than in his day !


is the veriest termagant I have ever encountered ! She will then fret,
and foam, and roar; aye, and proceed from words to blows, knocking
about her oldest friends, like stock-fish, and not unfrequently dashing
them to pieces against rocks ; or, Cyclop-like, swallowing them up alive
in her capacious paunch ! I am strongly disposed to think that, had
Mr. Campbell been introduced to his favourite goddess, in one of these
angry moods, he would very soon have been sick of her company.
This, at least, was my case and the case of most people, on first en-
countering the frowns of her marine majesty. Mr. Campbell, however,
was a lover and as such, he only saw, from his bower near Hastings,
the smiling Syren.

" mighty Sea !

Camelion-like thou changest, but there's love
In all thy change, and constant sympathy
With yonder sky."

There is, indeed, sympathy enough between air and ocean but it is
a sympathy which manifests itself, too often in stormy conflicts and
growling contentions for mastery, while harassing the peaceful voyager,
or plundering him of the property which he is carrying towards his
native shores. It is very well for the poet to talk of the

" crisped smiles,

Luxuriant hearings, and sweet whisperings,"

of this fair mistress, while eyeing her charms from " some romantic
eminence*." But I, who have experienced her frowns and caresses in
every latitude, from that fragrant Archipelago

" Where seas of glass, with gay reflexion, smile
Round the green coast of Banda's spicy isle"

to those dreary northern shores where the lips of the goddess are fortu-
nately sealed in icy silence for six months of the year, have lost much
of my juvenile passion for the sea !

It is a pity, indeed, that the eloquent bard did not see the object of
his adoration in one of her hysterical paroxysms off the Cape, when the
giant genius of that stupendous promontory wraps a huge table-cloth
round his ears to deaden the clatter of his neighbour's tongue ! He

* If we may rely on the authority of Hudibras, the goddess makes not only a very
pleasant mistress, but a much less noisy wife than some of her sex.
" The dukes of Venice, who are said
The Adriatic Sea to wed,
Have gentler mates, perhaps, than those
For whom the State decrees such shows."


would have found that this same " Mirror of the Stars," is not always
employed in the kind office of

" Rocking even the fisher's little bark
As gently as a mother rocks her child."

Verily I have seen this gentle nurse dandle on her lap half a dozen line-
of-battle ships nay, a whole fleet of Indiamen, with as much ease, and
apparently with as much malicious pleasure, as a cat dandles a mouse,
or a boy bandies a shittlecock !

Many have been the philtres and objurgations, proposed for securing
her " crisped smiles," and repressing her " luxuriant hearings ;" but
few of them have been successful. Dr. Granville, in his " St. Peters-
burgh," assures us that forty drops of laudanum will prove a certain
panacea for all the ills which her marine majesty can inflict on suffer-
ing landsmen. I dare not doubt the Doctor's prescription, but having
great faith in the efforts of nature, and the rewards of patience, it has
been my custom to let the angry goddess have her way, and wait for
the calm that always succeeds the storm. The wisdom of Socrates
is not to be despised. He resented not the watery salutation which
was clashed about his ears from a scolding wife ; and still less should
the wooer of the sea nymph rebel against the seasoning which she
imposes on her most favoured suitors.

Just as the foregoing observations were going to press, I received by
the twopenny-post, the following anonymous effusion, entitled,


I hate your hoary face gruff sea !
'Twere vile hypocrisy in me,
To say I loved you. If I do,

May 1 be d rowned and Campbell too !

Great BRINY BEING ! at whose roar,
My stomach heaves, and every pore
Exhales a moisture damp and cold
I know your horrors well of old !
To me more welcome is the growl
Of Thames-street fish-fags, or the howl
Of hungry wolves, than your dull moan,
And yonder shingles' surly groan.
That man, by Jove ! who gives the sea
The preference to land must be

A fool or a philosopher,

Whom no privations can deter.
The glories of the ocean grand,
Tis very well to sing on land ;


'Tis very fine to hear them caroll'd,


But very sad to see that ocean

From east to west, in wild commotion

To hear the burly billow's roar

Around, behind us, and before

To view the red and lurid sky

In all its " constant sympathy,"

With sea as mad as moon can make

The mistress of that reckless rake I

'Tis sad to trust the wintry wave,

Too oft, alas t the seaman's grave !

To brave the fury of the storm,

Some notion of its rage to form

To feel the " dread sublime," in all

The terrors of a sudden squall

To grasp the gunwale, every time,

The ruffian billows upward climb,

And cling to rope at every lurch,

That might uproot a solid church !

To see huge trunks and packing-cases

Fly off, at tangents, from their places

The chairs and tables emulate
The evolutions of a plate,
The larger dishes fiercely fall,

In mortal conflict with the small
The locomotive saucers chase
Inconstant cups, from place to place ;

Grave mustard-pots to tea-pots setting,

And pepper-castors pirouetting j

To hear the same eternal thump,

From morn to night, of either pump :

To bear the same infernal strife

For days, for weeks perhaps for life !

The rattling blocks, the tempest's howl,

The gruff command, the surly growl :

With men of uncongenial mind,

To be " cribbed, cabined, and confined"

To tug at beef, in rounds and briskets,

Salt pork and adamantine biscuits:

And, finally, from first to last,

To be convinced all sufferings past

" Are trifles light as air," to those

A sea-sick LANDSMAN undergoes:

And own a ship is but a jail,

Of wooden walls, of structure frail,

Where one, not doomed to die aground,

Is very likely to be drowned.



Whether it was from reminiscences of " Auld lang syne," or some
presentiment, on the part of the poet's mistress, that I might one day
attempt to sketch her portrait, I know not ; but certain it is, that she
was in a singularly mild mood during the whole of this passage. A
Nautilus might have spread its sail and gone to sleep in safety not a
zephyr disturbed the long train of smoke that rose from our furnace,
and wreathed, for miles, in our wake while the setting sun poured a
column of fluid gold along the bosom of the ocean, sufficient to secure
the heart of coyest maiden, and perhaps as really metallic as that which
was poured by Jupiter into a celebrated castle in days of yore, for no
very honourable purpose. The assemblage of fantastic clouds along
the western horizon, assumed all the forms which a poet's brain could
convert into every imaginable similitude of things terrestrial and celes-
tial, such as are seen, on a magnificent scale, in the equatorial and
arctic regions, on a summer's evening.

After a short twilight, the full moon, between whom and the watery
element on which we floated, there is a strong sympathy, as well as a
beneficial commerce, in the article of sun-beams, rose, with ruddy
countenance, from the very bosom of the deep ; and, with a generosity
founded on the most approved canons of our own planet, distributed
to her neighbour EARTH, all the light which she had borrowed from
the sun and was unable to keep in her own possession. The column
of gold, in our wake, was now succeeded by a column of silver, stretched
out to the utmost verge of the eastern horizon ; and as it lay directly
in the course which we were steering, it required no very extravagant
flight of fancy to compare it with the pillar of light which led the
Israelites along the desert sands*.

My eye had been long familiarized to scenes of this description, in
various climes ; but always in connexion with phenomena very dif-
ferent from those which now presented themselves namely, silence
and motionless tranquillity, our bark, in other times, sleeping, as it

* Poets have taken great liberties with nature in all ages much more so than
painters. Thus, they have represented the sun-beams as gilding a whole lake or sheet
of water, and converting it into a golden mirror. Every one knows the description of
Loch Katrine, by the immortal Scott

" One burnished sheet of living gold

Loch Katrine lay beneath him roll'd."

And yet there is no such thing in nature ! If a sheet of water lies between the spectator
and the sun, or moon, a column of golden or silver light is seen crossing the watery
expanse; but nothing more. It is physically impossible to be otherwise ; yet the ima-
gination yields at once to the deception, and poets are, no doubt, pardonable in availing
themselves of this facility in captivating the senses at the expense of the judgment.


were, on the bosom of the unruffled deep. Here the scene was quite
reversed. The vessel was cleaving the level plain of water with astonishing
velocity, as if impelled by a furious tempest that would have raised the
billows into mountains and by what? " There is only one step," said
Napoleon, " from the sublime to the ridiculous" this huge Leviathan,
with all her cargo of live and dead lumber, was impelled along the
deep at the rate of twelve miles an hour by the steam of a kettle !

But I shall not protract a voyage which I have never yet known any
one inclined to do, however favourable the breeze, smooth the water,
agreeable the company, or commodious the ship a strong proof that
man was designed to live on land rather than on water ; otherwise he
would, doubtless, have been born with fins instead of fingers, and a tail
instead of toes.


The Firth of Forth forms a noble estuary and approach to the Scottish
capital and would be an invaluable feature in the southern part of the
island ; where the whole navy of England might ride in safety, and
Neptune hold his court on the most magnificent scale.

The steamer darts forward between the ruins of art and the wrecks
of nature TANTALIX>N CASTLE on our left, and the stupendous BASS
ROCK, rising five hundred feet perpendicular from the ocean, on our
right. If the Caledonian Capitol be ever surprised by an enemy from
the sea, it will not be for want of geese to give timely notice to the
garrison ! From the Bass, as from Ailsa, on the other side of the island,
the intrusion of man, and the sight of a steamer, dislodge such myriads
of the winged tribe that the air is darkened by them, and the simile of
a modern author is not very extravagant, when he tell us that they fall
again like a shower of snow in every direction, as far as the eye can

The series of towering eminences, on which the <c Intellectual City"
is built, and by which it is backed and flanked, come successively into
view. Arthur's Seat, Salisbury Crags, the venerable Castle, Calton
Hill, the Old, and, lastly, the New Town, present themselves, one after
the other, while the decreasing breadth of the estuary, and the increasing
height of the mountains on each side, render every instant the scenery
more distinct and romantic. In the lofty coast of Fife, however, with
its towns and villages straggling along the shore, I could not, for the life
of me, realize, as Brother Jonathan would say, the similitude which it
bore in the eye of James the Fifth, to " a mantle with a gold fringe."
If we must have recourse to a tailor's shop, for a simile, I would say


that the coast of Fife bore more resemblance to an old blue great-coat
with white buttons, of various sizes, and well patched with pieces of
yellow, green, brown, and grey cloth, corresponding with the corn-fields,
pasturage, heath, and rock which diversify its surface. The mantle and
gold fringe must have been pictured on the royal retina by some of those
" innate ideas" which Locke has doubted, and which modern philo-
sophers have not yet clearly demonstrated.


The hospitable natives of Newhaven, who crowd the beach and pier,
to welcome John Bull to the Land of Cakes, would seem to have taken
a lesson from their brethren of Calais and Madras ; and have improved
on their preceptors in the art of killing a stranger with kindness, on
first landing, while wrangling and fighting about precedency in per-
forming for him the most menial office, even to that of carrying the
gentleman's umbrella, or the lady's work-bag, from the steamer to the
stage-coach. In most countries, the first salutation which an alien
receives, on putting his foot on a foreign soil, is not the best calculated
to impress him favourably with the politeness of the people whom he
is come to visit ; and I must say that, of any point on the wonderfully-
indented coast of Scotland, there is not one, where a stranger is so
much pestered and imposed upon, as at this said Newhaven, by a ragged,
ugly, and ill-mannered swarm of tide-waiters, such as I have no where
else, in Scotland, seen. The magistrates should abate this nuisance.
There is some amusement, as well as danger and annoyance, however,
in the landing scene. The stone-pier is so narrow, that two people can
scarcely walk abreast, where it forms the elbow against which the
steamer lies. In the contention for a clothes-bag, by four vociferous
and half-naked young Celtic savages, two of them were precipitated into
the sea, where they struggled for the bag far more strenuously than for
their own lives ; and could scarcely be separated from each other's
throats or the bone of contention, by boat-hooks, coils of rope, and logs
of wood, which were launched at them by their more disciplined and
authoritative brethren of the same calling ! I confess that I did not
participate in the sympathy expressed by the crowd of passengers, who
were cautiously scrambling along the parapet wall (for it deserves not
the name of pier) being perfectly certain that the belligerents in the
water were in as little danger of drowning, as a brace of Newfoundland
dogs, who had slipped off the Pancake Rock into the narrow entrance
of St. John's harbour.



EDINBURGH has been compared to a TURTLE, whose head is the castle
whose spine or back, is the High-street whose ribs and trucks are
the wynds and closes and whose tail is Holyrood-house. A still more
remarkable simile has been drawn by Sir Walter Scott. " The pro-
spect, in its general outline, commands a close-built, high-piled city,
stretching itself out beneath, in a form, which, to a romantic imagina-
tion, may be supposed to represent that of a DRAGON ; now, a noble
arm of the sea, with its rocks, isles, distant shores, and boundary of
mountains ; and now, a fair and fertile champaign country, varied with
hill, dale, and rock, and skirted by the picturesque ridge of the Pent-
land mountains." In my mind, the first simile has too much of the
animal, and too little of the spiritual, for a " MODERN ATHENS." It
savours more of the alderman than the philosopher ; and a contempla-
tion of the intellectual city from this giddy eminence, engendered a train
of thought more allied to the morale than the physique more con-
nected with the speculative operations of the mind, than with the stone

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 4 of 28)