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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no where that poverty of aspect which marks nearly three-fourths of
Loch Cateran. With respect to style, its upper extremity may be com-
pared with the finest views on Loch Awe. There are also points in
this division not dissimilar to the finer parts of the Trosachs, and fully
equal to them in wild grandeur*."


Debarking from the little steamer that has swept its foaming circuit
round the romantic shores of Loch Lomond added a few wreaths of
smoky laurels to the forehead of old BEX regaled the senses of its
passengers with mountain and lake scenery of the first order whetted
our appetites by the keenness of the air, and effectually assuaged them
by substantial salmon we pursue the crystal stream of the Leven,
during its short course, till swallowed up by the turbid Clyde at Dum-
barton. Still we are on classic ground. No sooner has the cave of

* Highlands and Wands of Scotland. Vol. i. p. 209.


ROB ROY receded from view, than the monument of Smollett rises in
sight. The inimitable author of Roderick Random was born on the
banks of the clearest stream in Scotland, and lies buried on the banks
of the most turbid river in Italy. He, whose youthful imagination has
been delighted with the exquisite delineations of Smollett's pen, will
hardly fail to stop arid sigh, if not shed a tear, at the foot of his monu-
ment, whether on the Arno or the Leven. I have had the melancholy
pleasure of inscribing my name, as a testimony of my gratitude and
admiration for the dead, in both places and, during the remainder of
the drive from. Loch Lomond to Dumbarton, the characters and scenes
of Roderick Random, Peregrine. Pickle, and Humphrey Clinker, so com-
pletely excluded all impressions of the natural scenery through which I
passed, that I know no more of it than I do of the darkest catacombs on
the banks of the Nile. Reflection is a sad marplot of perception ; and
often have I had to lament that intensity of thought has disturbed or
superseded accuracy of observation. The sensorium, too much occupied
with its own internal operations, neglects or turns a deaf ear to the
reports of the senses from without and thus, opportunities are lost
which can never be recalled !


At the end of a short drive, we are roused from our reminiscences of the
bard of Leven, by a stupendous object of great interest. An insulated
and almost perpendicular rock, some five or six hundred feet high,
springing from an alluvial beach, crowned with battlements, chronicled
in history, and commanding the most extensive views of a majestic river,
an Alpine coast, and a boundless ocean, is well worth an attentive
survey from the plain below, and a laborious ascent to its highest pin-
nacle. The venerable summit of the most ancient and the most im-
pregnable fortress of Caledonia is disfigured I had almost said, defiled
by tasteless and inappropriate buildings. I sincerely hope that the
indignant genius of old Ben-Lomond will, one of these days, send down
such a potent blast from his powerful lungs, as shall pitch the governor's
house, with all its etceteras (except the inmates) clean into the Clyde,
to be replaced by structures more castellated in form, and more anti-
quated in appearance.

The projection of such a basaltic rock through an alluvial stratum, on
this confluent angle of the Leven and the Clyde, affords a fine example
of one of those stupendous operations of nature during some of her con-


vulsive and intestine struggles, not much inferior to those which heaved
Ailsa and Staffa from the unfathomable bed of the ocean.

It would be strange if such a locality were scanty of historical inci-
dents and legendary lore. Dumbarton rock and castle are not deficient
in this respect ; but these I must pass over. We cannot help shudder-
ing at the idea of treading on the same stones that were polluted by the
treacherous foot of a MENTEITH and our indignation changes into
sorrow, when we sit down on a fragment of that ruined tower, where a
WALLACE pined in captivity, before he was delivered up to the southron
foeman !


The Clyde is the most Christian river on which I have ever had the
good luck to sail. There are more crosses planted on its banks than on
the banks of the Tiber, or in half the Catholic churchyards of Oberland
or the Vaudois Sir Walter Scott frequently calls it the " brim-fu'
Clyde" and so it is, especially at high water, when, like a drove of
wild Highland cattle, it often manifests a strong dislike to leave its own
bonny Scotland, and takes every opportunity of sideling to the right
and to the left, if not controlled by sticks and stones.

It is also a very noisy river, from the moment that it leaps over huge
ledges of rock, near Lanark, and foams through a rugged channel past
the yet more noisy colony of Mr. Owen, till its waters are mixed with
the ocean, and flow r through the kyles of Bute, and fifty other boisterous
and dangerous passages, among the Hebridean Cyclades the pibroch,
the pipes, and the fiddle intermingling their melodious notes with the
hundred dialects and intonations of English and Scotch, of Gaelic and of
Erse, not omitting the equally intelligible language and music of kyloes,
sheep, hogs, dogs, poultry, and various other biped and quadruped
passengers up and down the Clyde, bent on different errands.

A stranger standing on Wallace's Tower at the summit of Dumbarton
Castle, and surveying the majestic Clyde, would be tempted to imagine
that the thousand factories of cotton, calico, and cutlery, erected on the
banks of the river, together with all their beams, traddles, and shuttles,
had taken it into their heads to have an excursion, by steam, as well as
their masters ; and, with laudable Scotch industry, were combining
pleasure with profit, and keeping their clanking machinery, plashing
paddles, and roaring steam blasts, in full play from the Gorbals of Glas-
gow to the Castle of Rothsay.

The surface of the waters presents some curious phenomena. It 15


ploughed into broad furrows, resembling deep, but boiling and eddying
streams, on each side of which is a white and foaming torrent, like that
so often seen coming down a mountain gully after a heavy shower ; while
diagonal and constantly widening lines of waves diverge from the track
of one ploughing machine, till they meet and clash with those of an-
other, pursuing the same or opposite courses.

Meantime the atmosphere is in keeping with, and characteristic of,
the great city of Glasgow. It is a huge canopy of tartan, or df striped
calico, produced by long narrow lines of smoke, drawn out to intermi-
nable lengths, crossing each other in a hundred directions, on every
breeze, and chequered with the still narrower lines of grey steam perpe-
tually issuing from the safety-valves of the boilers.

The " daughter of the Dawn" was just beginning to tread, with her
rosy feet, the summits of the mountains, when we were falling down,
with the ebb tide, from the little harbour of Dumbarton, and crossing
the broad shadow which the rock cast on the smooth water beneath.
Saunders, the boatman, whose eyes were scarcely open, had yet an eye
to economy, and wishing to shorten his course and abridge his labour,
grounded us hard and fast on a point which was rapidly becoming bare
by the recession of the tide. This false economy occasioned honest
Sawney treble the work he would otherwise have had and at length we
gained the stream.


I wonder that some of our descriptive and picturesque tourists do not
spend " six weeks on the Clyde," instead of " six weeks on the Rhine"
exploring its shores and the innumerable lochs, creeks, and sounds
that lie about its debouches. There is no lack of castles, ruins, islands,
ships, rocks, mountains, cascades, lakes, cliffs, forests, villas, towns,
commerce and cultivation, to fill their albums and even make a costly
quarto into the bargain. " The Clyde, always spacious, and always
covered with its shipping, offers a scene of life and brilliancy, unparal-
leled on any of our sea-shores, and enhanced by the majestic screen of
mountains to the north, for ever varying, under the changes of a restless
atmosphere; but, under all these changes, for ever magnificent."

Greenock, which, to a Southron ear or fancy, conveys no other idea than
that of Wapping or Rotherhithe, is not only most beautifully situated ;
but is, in fact, one of the most extraordinary spots I have ever visited.
I once thougbt that the tide of human existence flowed about Charing-
cross and Cornhill, with unrivalled velocity ; but Greenock surpasses
either of these confluences. From morn till night, ten minutes seldom


elapse without the advent or departure of from one to ten or fifteen
steamers, of all sizes, and fraught with all kinds of cargoes, living and
dead, animal and vegetable. The roar of the steam and the plash of
the paddles never cease for an instant the wharfs perpetually vibrate
with the concussions of the vessels crowds of men, women, and chil-
dren are constantly climbing up and jumping down, in and out of the
steamers while the quays are covered with passengers and packages,
pressing, flowing, jostling, and tumbling, in such intricate mazes and
gyrations, that the head of the spectator becomes giddy with the tumult
and confusion. As every steamer that enters or sails from the Clyde,
touches, for a few minutes, at Greenock ; some faint idea of this moving
scene may be conceived ; but it is from the pencil of a Wilkie or a
Cruikshank that any very sensible or tangible image could be conveyed
to the eye^/ If Cruikshank were to seat himself on a herring barrel,
a few hours in front of the Custom-house at Greenock, with a pot of
stout or a stoup of whiskey at his side, he might draw a picture from
life, without any exaggeration, that would convulse the metropolis with
laughter, from Hyde-park to the London-docks*.

When tired or satisfied with the tumultuous scene of the quays at
Greenock, the traveller may ascend, in half an hour, the heights above
the port, and there behold one of the finest views in Scotland. The
noble screen of the Argyleshire mountains, rising peak over peak, till
they vanish in the sky, forms a magnificent distance to the picture,
Avhile the middle ground is occupied by the broad expanse of the Clyde,
gay with shipping in every direction. Still nearer ^ the port of Greenock
itself, crowded with masts, and sails, and steam chimnies, and buildings,
forms an appropriate foreground to a panorama, as variegated as it is
picturesque. With a spirit more restless and impatient than falls to
the lot of most mortals, I spent two days at Greenock, without the
slightest approach to ennui the comfortable TONTINE furnishing me
with ample refection after the toils and pleasures of the day. Let no
traveller grudge a day or two at Greenock and its vicinity.

* Some conception may be formed of the effects of steam on the Clyde, when it is
stated that an old woman, and one or two of ten bairns, can now gather together the
chickens, and eggs that used to be eaten, if produced at all, in the wildest glens of the
most barren isles of the Hebrides embark in a steamer sell her cargo in Greenock or
Glasgow and be back again in a day or two to her native haunt?, with money to pay
the rent of her cot and acre for a whole year !



So, then, the good folks of the Clyde and Argyleshire have not pure
water enough from the clouds above, and from their rocky springs,
pebble-bottomed streams, and glassy lakes below; but they must
drench themselves at a foul fountain near the Kyles of Bute, pregnant
with nauseous ingredients of the most scientific description, nearly as
difficult to pronounce as terrible to swallow the scourings, doubtless,
of some tannery, blanket manufactory, or soap boilery, in the nether

That the spinning Jocks and Jennies of Glasgow should take a sum-
mer trip down the Clyde, to inhale the fresh breezes of the Atlantic,
and clear their pipes of the cotton, cobwebs, and carbon, therein accu-
mulated during the winter, is rational enough ; but that the Highlanders
and islanders, who may be said to live in a kind of perpetual shower-
bath, and whose interiors are as familiar with whiskey, as their exteriors
are with rain that whole clans of the M'Donalds, M'Leans, M'Gregors,
M'Leods, M'Phersons, and M'Dougalls, should be seized with an annual
fit of hydro-mania, or preference of stinking water to mountain dew,
may appear somewhat strange more especially as the springs of Pan-
nanich do not perfume the air with those sulphureous odours that ex-
hale from the waters of Harrogate, and which used to find such favour
with the olfactories of our Caledonian neighbours ! Be this as it may,
it is astonishing what ample justice the Highlanders do to the healing
springs of this place " for they sit from morning to night by the side
of the wells, drinking as often as they can make room for a fresh sup-
ply." It has been keenly remarked by a modern traveller, that " if a
man's carcase is to be scoured of all diseases as you can scour a house,
their practice is perfect."

But why should not Highlanders have their holidays as well as
Sassenachs ? It is not the medicinal properties of the springs at Chel-
tenham and Leamington that work the miraculous healing powers
which are ascribed to them. It is the change of scene and air the
change of hours and habits the abstraction from business the dissipa-
tion of care in short, the new stimulus given to the morale, rather than
the operation of salt water on the physique, which performs the won-
derful renovation of health. Let, therefore, the pale and sickly beauties
of Glasgow imitate their southern sisters, by " picking cockle-shells
in the sand reading novels riding on asses raffling at libraries
buying spars wishing for dinner first, and bed-time afterwards and


labouring, strenua inertia, to be happy; or to imagine themselves
happy." It is often by means of these little trifles that mortals regain
that greatest of blessings HEALTH !


LOCH FINE is decidedly the finest loch in Scotland for HERRINGS.
We scent them in every gale we taste them in every dish we see
them on every table we almost feel them through the bottom of the
steamer as we sail up the Loch ! In fine (I mean Loch Fine) every
conversation smacks of herrings, at this season of the year, and often
consists of nothing else !

So, then, Anderson and Pennant have been hoaxing us in high style
respecting the annual migrations of herrings ! The flight of Xenophon's
Greeks from Cunaxa, or of Napoleon's eagles from Moscow, has not
been half so accurately traced as the routes of that innumerable army of
herrings that starts, annually, from the North Pole, and pushes its
legions into every creek, from Iceland to the Azores. The above-men-
tioned authors, and especially Anderson, must have been quarter-mas-
ters-general in the army of fins. Mr. Anderson avers, and Pennant
believes that, in Iceland, the herrings are tivo feet in length, and that,
when the army breaks up from winter quarters round the Pole, it is
pursued by numerous sea monsters, especially by whales, who, like
many droll fishes on dry land, have a great hankering after things which
they cannot swallow or digest that the army of fins divides into two
great columns, the eastern, scouring the coast of Norway, penetrating
the Baltic, the Zuyder Zee, and various other inlets while the western
column makes for Shetland and the Orkneys, and onwards to Scotland
and the Hebrides, some going round through the Straits of Dover, and
others by Ireland, till they unite their forces once more in the great
Atlantic. Now all this is a very beautiful romance, containing about as
much matters of fact as the " Mysteries of TJdolpho," or any other
fashionable novel. Yet, upon the accuracy of these details of herring
campaigns, many thousands, perhaps millions, have been expended by
fishing companies, all, or most of them, ending as did the South Sea
scheme ! It is probable, indeed, that herrings, like many other folks,
have a great propensity to make summer excursions to the lochs and
islands of Scotland, the shores of the Baltic, and the coasts of France
and England returning, when the frolic is over, to their unseen and
unknown haunts in the unfathomable depths of the Western Ocean.
Like other tourists, too, they have evinced a most capricious taste, in


their searches after the sublime and beautiful hence the routes laid
down by Anderson and Pennant, are now as antiquated as the itineraries
of Smellfungus and other sentimental travellers of the last century. It
is curious, however, that these inconstant lovers of the scaly tribe have
still preserved a wonderful partiality for Loch Fine probably from
respect to that king of Highland chiefs, the Duke of Argyle, whose
liberality every traveller must bless, for permitting the use of whiskey
toddy, and abolishing the use of toll-bars throughout his dominions !
May his Grace never want a fine salt herring for his supper, and a
mutchkin of Glenlivet to frighten the nightmare from his Grace's couch,
and chase the blue devils from his Grace's breakfast !


The steamer which was expected to convey us to Inverary, darted
suddenly into the harbour of East Tarbet, and our voyage was unexpect-
edly terminated for the time. In this little fishing town, where we
anticipated bad accommodations, we found, in a small inn, the most
comfortable quarters. Peggy and her mistress were all good nature,
activity, and kindness. Every thing which the town could afford, and
more than princes require, were at our beck. An excellent dinner,
good beds, and assiduous attention were given us, for a mere trifle. I
shall never cease to compare and contrast the luxury of a little inn at
Tarbet, with the " splendid misery" of a " family hotel," in Edinburgh
or London ! Long experience and knowledge of the world, indeed, had
taught me not to seek for happiness in high places, nor despair of com-
fort under the humble roof !

The narrow isthmus which connects East and West Tarbet, is not
much more than a mile in extent. We wandered across it, one beautiful
and still evening in August, calling up, in memory, the historical asso-
ciations connected with the furtive expedition of MAGNUS the Norwegian
king, and the patriotic march of the noble Bruce over the same ground
in days of yore. .

" It was a wondrous sight to see
Topmast and pennon glitter free,
High raised above the greenwood tree,
As on dry land the galley moves,
By eliffs and copse, and alder groves."

It is a still more wondrous sight to see a steamer dart across the same
isthmus, a little farther north, (Crinan Canal,) without the assistance
of human muscles without oars or sails.


While sitting on one of the turrets of the old ruined castle that over-
looks the town and harbour of East Tarbet, now watching the approach
of the far-distant steamer that was to carry us to Inverary again, sur-
veying the long lines of herring-busses, moored in the harbour, and
canopied with their sable nets, conveying some idea of the funeral
procession of some great marine deity I found my mind entangled
in a deep cogitation on the ultimate effects of REDUNDANT POPULATION !
a strange subject for contemplation in the Highlands ! The links of
that chain of association which connected this reverie with its primary
cause or starting point, were entirely lost, though there can be no doubt
that they were all regularly catenated, as cause and effect, notwithstand-
ing that the last and most impressive link only had now possession of
the sensorium. As the steamer was six miles distant, and my compa-
nions were sauntering through the town, I determined to have my
solitary rumination as well as Malthus or any of his disciples.

The annual increase of population in our towns and villages, and
the rapid spread of cultivation in the wilds of America and Austra-
lia, leave no doubt in any rational mind that, unless new worlds are
discovered, or our present globe takes a fit of growing larger, (which,
by the bye, as a MOTHER, she ought occasionally to do,) a time will
come, when the products of our earth shall barely supply the consump-
tion of its inhabitants, and when a check, moral or physical, must occur
to the rate, at which the MAN-FACTORY (if such a term be allowed) is
now working. The optimists, or Candides, assure us that nature or
nature's God did not confer on man the power of multiplying, without
endowing the earth which he inhabits with the capability of supplying
all the necessaries of life *. This is a very beautiful and consolatory
doctrine; but unfortunately there is also one awkward piece of modern
experience that crosses the path of the optimist. The Celestial Empire
presents an example of what may be fairly called the saturated point of

* I once fell in with a most remarkable specimen of the nearly worn-out sect of
" Perfectibility" philosophers, while travelling from Carlisle to Penryn. A passenger
was remarking on the contrast between the fertile plains around us and the Highlands
of Scotland. " The wildest parts of the Highlands," observed an elderly gentleman, in
broad Scotch, " will one day be as fertile and as well cultivated as these plains." In.
deed, said I, will the savage scene around Loch Scavig, in the Isle of Sky, be ever
cultivated ? " Certainly," he replied. What will become of the rocks, I inquired ?
" They will be carried away to other countries, to build houses, bridges, and other
works. In short," continued this optimist, " if the population of these isles were to
increase a hundred or a thousand fold, the wisdom of God and the ingenuity of man
will find ample means of sustenance for them all, without any necessity for emigration."
Such happy anticipations I should be sorry to disturb; but the idea of Loch Scavig
becoming as fertile as Lancashire, tickled my fancy for some days afterwards.



population. For many centuries, China has seldom supplied more than
a sufficiency of food and other necessaries for the existing inhabitants.
But as these have constantly tended to increase more or less, the same
as in all other countries, what has been the consequence of the SATURA-
TION ? INFANTICIDE in ordinary and famine, with its necessary ac-
companiment, PESTILENCE, in extraordinary years ! ! It is of no use to
blink the question. This must be the final state of every country,
unless the march of intellect discovers some moral or physical check
to the existing progress of population, which has hitherto eluded the
search of philosophers. It is idle to talk about the thousands or mil-
lions of uncultivated acres in England. Their cultivation will protract,
but not prevent the ultimate point of saturation, as in China. The wilds
of America may, and probably will, become a garden ; and the interior
of Australia, if it be not a " lake of the dismal swamp," may one day
be as populous as Holland ; but the progress of population will absorb
or swallow up every capability of the earth, and bring it to the state of
the " Celestial Empire" at last*. That most orthodox monarch, of
blessed and pious memory, Henry the Eighth, has greatly accelerated
the miseries of England, by abolishing convents and monasteries,
those sacred moral checks to redundant population. It was a sad
oversight of our early REFORMERS, some centuries back, to allow the
clergy to marry, and thus to encumber themselves with the worldly
cares of a numerous progeny. No class of society contributes more
to redundancy of population than the pastors. Our modern RE-
FORMERS should mind this. The Mouvement party in France are
blind to the future, by relaxing the reins of Romish discipline on this
point. Let them look to the States of the Church in fair Italy. There
the celibacy of monks and nuns, aided by the slender diet of Lent, and
some other means which cannot be revealed to ears of flesh, has had a
most salutary effect in checking the multiplication of our species, and
keeping the people below the point of saturation f.

* It is not a little curious, that the arch infidel, Voltaire, has stated the case exactly, in
one of his fables. Speaking of the ultimate effects of redundant population, he makes
one of the personages say " Dans ce cas, il faudroit que la terre rendit le double de
ce qu'elle rend ou qu'il y auroit le double de pauvres ou qu'il faudroit avoir le

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 8 of 28)