John Macculloch.

The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 37)
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tions of novelty bear an exact proportion to our previous
knowledge ; and he who expects that it shall be other-
wise, forgets the great law of nature, that neither the
mind nor the earth shall yield its stores to those who do
not choose to cultivate them.

It is natural for us to imagine that we must know well
and thoroughly, that with which we are familiar; that we
cannot fail to understand what we see every day. Thus
the vulgar, which imagines itself a judge in music, for-
gets also that there may be more in this art than meets its
own ear, and refuses to yield its judgment to the learned.
As little can it comprehend the natural beauties which
surround it, and thus also it disbelieves what it cannot
understand. Yet this taste is of slow growth, and is
among the last to appear. If we doubt that it requires
much and various study, much practice, great delicacy of
feeling, a warm and creative imagination, and many col-
lateral acquisitions, we have only to examine our own
progress, to compare our present state with any previous
one, and, in admitting that there may be a much longer
path before us than the one we have left behind, learn to
be modest.

As to the public at large, we have ourselves almost
witnessed the rise of the very slender degree of taste on
this subject which it yet possesses. The varied and beau-
tiful scenery in which Scotland abounds, had not been


dreamt of a century ago. That of England was equally
unknown, though accessible to a larger population, and
to one in which the number of the educated was arith-
metically, if not proportionably, greater; and though the
arts were there more diffused, from the presence of col-
lections of pictures, the possession of ancient buildings,
a longer existence of ornamented villas and rural scenery,
and other causes that need not be named. So little was
the scenery of its lakes known, that even the lakes
themselves are scarcely noticed in the popular work on
geography which goes by the name of Guthrie. These
beautiful spots are barely mentioned, without even an
enumeration, as being " called Derwent waters," and
they are classed with Whittlesea mere, to which also the
principal place is given. If Gray was not the first to
notice them, he was among the first to direct the public
attention to them, as Mr. Wyndham did to Wales ; and
how rapidly they have risen in fame since, I need not say.
You and I can yet remember Avhen all the knowledge
of Scottish scenery was confined to Loch Lomond and
the most accessible of the Perthshire lakes. At the
time of Pennant's and Johnson's tours, now only fifty
years past, scarcely any suspicion of the beauty of our
scenery was entertained ; nor, excepting Staffa, too re-
markable a spot to be easily passed without notice, was a
single picturesque object named throughout the country;
while even that was then but just known. Johnson, it is
true, could not see them, from physical defects; but
Pennant talked of pictures, since he described those at
Duplin and had an artist in his service : yet he has
scarcely mentioned one spot of all that he saw, as a man
who felt the beauty of scenery. The account which Birt,
long before, gives of the hideous Highland mountains and
glens, is absolutely ludicrous. I know not exactly when


Edinburgh was first discovered to be the most romantic
city in the world ; but that is a discovery of no high an-
tiquity. I myself was one of the first, and, I believe, the
very first absolute stranger, who visited Loch Cateran.
I had then a Scottish map in which it was not even in-
serted : you and the Lady of the Lake can tell another
tale now. Even in another and kindred art, it is well
known what was thought of Gothic architecture not very
long ago ; and whence, indeed, the very namt^ originated.
Every one knows what even professional architects
thought of it; nor was it till the time of Gray and Walpole,
that the public began to discover that it was not a ponder-
ous, gloomy, and tasteless style, the produce of barbarism,
and fitted only to delight barbarians.

The great increase of domestic travelling, while it ap-
pears to originate in a taste for the beauties of Nature, is
that which chiefly tends to generate it. The people be-
gins by imagining that it sees, and admires, and under-
stands; and it ends in doing what it had but fancied be-
fore; in seeing and admiring and understanding. If a
taste for the arts of design is also yet low in Britain, there
is a certain moderate portion of it widely diflTused, as is a
species of rambling and superficial literature ; and all
this aids the cause, at it is equally an earnest of future
and further improvement. Let us all strive for more ;
and, to attain it, begin by convincing ourselves of our ig-
norance. There are few pleasures better worth the pur-
suit, for there are few that cost less and produce less pain;
few that yield more refined and delicate satisfaction, either
in the present enjoyment or the future recollection. The
contemplation of nature is a perpetual and a cheap gra-
tification ; improving the heart while it cultivates the
mind, and abstracting us from the view, as it helps to
guard us from the intrusion, of those cares, against


which it requires all our watchfulness and attention to
shut the door.

Thus I have tried to defend the art of drawing, and,
at the same blow, to answer my critic friend. I admit,
that those who have never seen, and never are to see, the
scenes thus described, are very likely to turn over the
pages and to ask, — why all this. But I know that those
who have seen them, will be very glad to have them
brought again to their recollections, even by the vague
and empty array of words ; and I believe that this very
array of words which, tell what tale they may, can never
tell the reality, will induce others to search in nature for
what might have escaped their notice, and thus, by stimu-
lating their attention to the improvement of their discern-
ment, tend to increase their pleasures. Let me have your
approbation, my dear Sir Walter, and we will defy the




I MUST now return to Tarbet, for the purpose of con-
ducting you to Loch Long-, separated from Loch Lomond
by a low neck of land about a mile and a half in breadth,
which here forms the sole barrier between Loch Lomond
and the sea. This is the Tarbet itself, or carrying- place,
whence the hamlet derives its name ; a term applied to
many places in Scotland similarly situated, and, among
others, to the narrow neck which occurs in Harris, and
to that which, in Cantyre, separates the east and the
west Loch Tarbet. The boat-carrying, is the literal
meaning ; and these places are analogous to the Cana-
dian portages, and to the 8«oXxo< of the Greeks, one noted
example of which existed near Corinth. It is probable
that, in this particular case, the name was imposed in
consequence of the celebrated raid of Haco (Hakon) in
1263, performed by a detachment of his fleet while he lay
at the Cnmbrays ; as it does not appear that the natives
have ever made a similar use of it as a means of commu-
nication between Loch Lomond and the sea. At present,
indeed, it is a Tarbet, but of a far other character ; serv-
ing to convey, in carts, from one steam boat to another,
the idlers whom Greenock and Glasgow evacuate daily
in this direction, in pursuit of happiness.

In the general historical sketch of the Islands here-
after given, I have noticed the leading facts which ap-
pertain to the affair of Largs ; but there are a few par-
ticulars, and this inroad among the rest, which are de-


serving- of a more particular mention. After the conquest
of Bute by Rudri, or Roderick, Haco proceeded round
Cantyre from Giglia, and anchored in Hereyiar-sund, or
the sound of Arran : probably in Loch Ransa, as there is
no other anchorage in Kilbranan sound, which must be
the place meant. He there received some monks whom
the King- of Scotland had despatched to confer with him
about a pacification, and soon after sent an embassy him-
self to treat about the proposed peace. Having given
them an audience, Alexander returned a commission with
counter proposals ; and, as far as can be discovered, it
appears that he was content that Haco should retain all
the Western Islands, or all the Sudreys that lay beyond
the mainland of Scotland, if himself was allowed to keep
Arran, Bute, and the Cumbrays. No terms were, how-
ever, concluded ; and as the weather was now becoming-
boisterous, the Norwegian fleet sailed up the Clyde and
anchored in the sound between the Cumbrays and Largs.
A fresh negotiation was then commenced ; which, pro-
ducing- no results, Haco sent an ambassador, to propose
that the two sovereigns should meet with all their forces,
and treat about a peace ; and that if they could not come
to an agreement, they should engage with their whole
armies and trust the issue to God. But as no decisive
answer was given to this proposal, the truce was declared
at an end : and it seems probable indeed that it was the
design of the Scots, to draw on these discussions till the
advance of winter should render the station of the Nor-
wegian fleet untenable; while they were at the same
time gradually collecting forces in the neighbourhood.

The war being thus recommenced, and the fleet being
in want of provisions, the Norwegian king sent sixty
ships up into Loch Long, commanded by Magnus the
King- of Mann, Dugal, of Isla I conjecture, who is also




called a Konongr, his brother Allan, Angus, and Mar-
g-ad, all Western Island chiefs, with Vigleik Priestson,
and Ivar Holm. Having anchored, they drew their boats
across this neck of land into Loch Lomond ; wasting the
islands, which are said to have been well inhabited, with
fire, burning also the houses about the lake, and making
a great devastation. Allan proceeded far into Scotland,
killing many of the inhabitants and takijig many hundreds
of cattle. Returning afterwards to their fleet, they met
with a violent storm in Loch Long and lost ten of their
ships ; Ivar Holm dying also of an acute disorder. The
affair of Largs, hereafter narrated, followed immediately
after this inroad : yet this large detachment did not re-
turn till it had terminated : a proof that what has been
considered by some Scottish historians as a pitched and
intended battle, is to be attributed to accident; as Haco
could not have intended to fight with less than the half of
his forces.

I have had occasion to remark incidentally, in various
parts of these letters, that the condition of the Western
Islands, and probably that of the Highlands in general,
was superior, in point of civilization and order, previous
to 1300, or during the period of the Norwegian rule, to
what it was afterwards, when the separate clans had, not
only renounced the controul of the Scottish government,
but had set up as petty princes, and were engaged in a
constant succession of mutual hostilities. I think that
conclusion is justified, not only by a variety of facts
which have been stated on different occasions, but by the
conduct and character of Haco, who appears to have been
both an enlightened and amiable personage ; as does John,
who seems to have been an ancestor of theMacdonalds,and
who was the greatest, after Magnus, of the insular princes
holding under the Norwegian crown; though, whether


he held his lands through the intervention of Magnus, as
Kin^ of Mann, or immediately from Norway, does not well
appear. The several embassies and negotiations seem
to have been conducted with all the formality and dignity
usual in modern and civilized countries; the Bishops of
Hamar and Orkney, with other distinguished persons,
having been among the Norwegian envoys. In a similar
manner, all the formalities of the several truces were
rigidly followed, even where these were demanded and
granted for burying- the dead ; matters which formed no
part of the system or fashion of clan warfare or policy in
after times, where, on the contrary, we find that every
species of treachery was, not only adopted, but held to
be justifiable.

When Haco had anchored in Gigha, John came to
meet him, in a single ship, accompanied by Bishop
Thorgil, and without any precautions. But when, on a
former occasion, he had consented to meet Alexander the
second at Kerrera, it was on condition that four Scottish
Earls should pledge their honour for his safe return,
whatever the event of the negotiations might be. This
marks a striking difference between the manners, or
morals of the two courts; as his situation was nearly the
same with respect to both, though holding lands of greater
value under the Scottish than under the Norwegian crown,
and therefore having stronger claims to its good faith and
protection. John's conduct in this case was strictly
honourable : as, although pressed by Alexander to de-
liver up Cairnburgh and three other castles which he
held from Haco, with the promise of the King's favour,
and of estates in Scotland of greater value, and though
much urged by his friends and relations to comply, he
persisted in refusing to break his oath to the Norwegian
king. His conduct to Haco in the conference at Gigha,


was equally firm and honourable ; refusing to join him,
on account of his oath to the King of Scotland, and choos-
ing to resign the lands which he held under Norway,
rather than break his allegiance to Alexander. But al-
though having this subject thus in his power, Haco used
neither force nor treachery to procure his compliance;
not even choosing to credit the imputations of rebellion
and disaffection that were laid to his charge, until he
should have the actual experience of facts. The same
mild and upright conduct marked the whole of his tran-
sit through the isles ; granting written protections to the
churches which applied for them, dismissing the alarmed
suppliants from various quarters in peace, and removing
the apprehensions which they had justly entertained on
account of their late rebellious conduct. In the same
manner, he received the apologies of the rebel lords of
Isla and Cantyre, Margad and Angus ; countermanding
the intended invasion of their estates, confirming them in
their lands, and being content, in lieu of their merited
punishment, with a supply of cattle for his fleet. When
also he at length dismissed John, after having- carried him
to Arran, he loaded him with rich presents, suffering him
to remain neutral, according to the dictates of his own

It is remarked in a general manner, in the historical
sketch, that the defeat at Largs could not be considered
in any other light than that of an accidental series of skir-
mishes, caused chiefly by the inj uries which the Norwegians
had suffered from the weather ; and not as a battle, decid-
ing the superiority of Scotland, and involving the cession
of the islands. So far indeed is that from being the fact,
that when Haco had arrived at the harbour of Tobermory
in his return northwards, he confirmed Dugal and Allan
in their estates, gave Bute to Rudri, or Roderick, who had


rebelled against Scotland and had been employed as
commander in the invasion of that island, and also gave
Arran to Margad, Thus even the two, and the principal,
islands which had been the subject of negotiation with
Scotland, and the immediate cause of the affair of Largs,
remained in the possession of Norway : which could not
have happened had the success of the Scots in this action
been as decisive as has been commonly imagined, and
asserted by Scottish historians. So far indeed was the
Norwegian power in the islands from having been shaken
by these losses, that the event of Haco's expedition was to
regain, and once more to settle under Norway, all that
had originally been acquired by Magnus Barefoot.

Thoueh it is well known that the earlier northern in-
vaders of Britain and Ireland conducted themselves with
great cruelty, it must be remembered, that these Ostmen,
or Easterlings, were not a people living under a regular
government, but independent and fierce pirates. They
were the Vikingr, the regular sea kings, whose home
was, literally, on the deep ; pirates by trade, without
land or settled abode, and occupied in ranging the seas
for plunder. But the Norwegian kings in after times,
and their subjects equally, committed no unnecessary
atrocities ; and in the time of Haco, as I have already
shewn, conducted themselves according to the received
usages of civilized warfare, and probably with not much
less moderation and regularity than is the custom of our
own days. That they exceeded the Scots of the same age
in civilization, is proved, not only by the facts abovemen-
tioned, but by other circumstances which have been else-
Avhere narrated, and by many which it is beyond ray
limits to enter on ; and which, as no such parallel or con-
clusion is drawn from them by the narrators, are the
more worthy of reliance. In the invasion of the isles by


the Earl of Ross, in the time of Alexander the second
among other cruelties, the Scots destroyed even the child-
ren; lifting them on the points of their spears, and then
throwing them on the ground. This practice had long
been forbidden in Norway, by Olver, wlio thence ac-
quired the name of Barna-kall, the protector of infants.
Thus also when Haco, in his progress to Orkney, had
landed at Oiafiord, which I presume to be Loch Eribol,
some Scottish prisoners were brought in ; one of whom
he detained as a hostage, while he suffered the others to
depart, on a promise that they would bring in some cattle.
On the same day, nine of the Norwegians had gone
ashore for water, seven of whom were killed by the na-
tives; notwithstanding which, and the failure of the for-
mer party in performing their promise, Haco dismissed
his hostage uninjured. It is safe to conclude, from these
facts, and from other circumstances which it would be
tedious and unnecessary to state, that the inhabitants of
the Western islands and of the western coast, whether
Highlanders, (Celts,) or Norwegians, were a far more
civilized people before the thirteenth century, than we
find them in those after days, when they had split into
many states and were equally free of the controul of
Norway and of Scotland.

I remarked that the character of " Haco the aged"
himself, seems to have been that of an enlightened and
amiable man. On various occasions, we find him studi-
ous of the comfort and accommodation of his friends and
warriors, and conforming to their wishes, even when
these did not coincide with his own views. At all times,
the Norwegian nobles seem to have possessed an aristo-
cratical influence, but of a far different nature from that
of the turbulent nobility of Scotland ; and in this parti-
cular instance, the king and his people appear to have


had a common and friendly interest, and to have lived to-
gether like brethren. His death, which took place in
Orkney, was tedious, and his nights sleepless ; and he
passed his weary hours in listening to a succession of
readers, who relieved each other at his bedside. When
sensible that he was dying, all his friends were sum-
moned, and each of them kissed him as he took his leave
for ever.

It would be a matter of interest could we ascertain
the nature and size of these Norwegian vessels, and of
those generally used at that period in the Western Isles.
But we can only form conjectures. When Haco had ar-
rived at Kerrera, it appears that he had a hundred ships,
most of them of a large size, and well provided with men
and arms. The general dimensions of these are not
stated, but those of his own vessel may be conjectured
from some of the particulars that are related; and though
it should have been the largest, it will convey an idea
of the nature of these vessels, which seem to have been
of three kinds, transports, galleys, or long ships, and
boats. The king's ship was built entirely of oak, and
ornamented with heads of dragons beautifully overlaid
with gold. There was a quarter deck, a main deck, a
fore deck, and a forecastle, to each of which a distinct set
of officers was appointed, and there were twenty-seven
banks of oars. According to the enumeration, there must
have been 200 men, or more, and upwards of thirty-four
officers ; as the names of individuals to that amount are
given, besides some chamberlains and priests who are
not named. All else that we can discover about this
vessel, is, that she had eight anchors ; as it is mentioned
that, in the gale at Largs, she could not be brought up
till she had let go her eighth, or sheet anchor. But I
need not pursue further that, on which every one, from
these few facts, may form his own conjectures.


Having, in the account of the Clyde hereafter, de-
scribed the lower part of Loch Long as far as it required
description, I have only now to notice its upper extre-
mity, so enclosed among- mountains as to resemble a
fresh-water lake, and only to be recognised as an arm of
the sea, at low water, when the long lines of brown
weeds betray its real nature. I know not but that the
first view of this spot disappoints those who have just
quitted the magnificent scenes of Loch Lomond ; simple
and unpretending as it is. But he who, after spending a
few hours at Arochar, leaves it with the same impression,
may proceed to Inveraray as fast as he pleases, for he
would gain nothing by a longer abode. He, however,
who has the faculty of seeing- landscape in places where
it is less obvious than at Luss or Stirling Castle, will
easily discover that, with all its simplicity, Loch Long
here affords many beautiful pictures, and in a style of
considerable grandeur. Putting out of question the Cob-
ler, the form of which is fantastical rather than pleasing,
the general character of the mountains is no less pictu-
resque than simple and broad ; while, being sufficiently
near to fill the eye, they give to the landscape a fulness
and richness of effect not often found in lake scenery,
and not much unlike to that of the upper and bolder
parts of Loch Lomond. The fine trees which surround
the inn, and the picturesque outlines of the house itself,
form middle grounds, at once various and rich, to
this bold distance ; while the foregrounds, where there
is an incessant variety produced by the sea banks, the
trees, the mountain torrents, and the rocks, possess
that happy congruity and continuity of character, which
render the composition of these pictures as perfect and
harmonious as they are numerous and striking. Many of
the landscapes are, however, of a coy disposition, and
will not be found without some study, and some of that


courtship wliich Nature, true to her imputed sexual cha-
racter, delights in and demands. I may add that the
whole of these picturesque scenes are limited to a very
small space about the house of Arochar; nor need any
one, to whom this is the sole pursuit, follow the margin
of the water downwards, beyond the point at which the
hills first appear to lock over each other ; a point situated
nearly opposite to the house of Ardgartan. I may also
add that there is no peculiar interest in the road that leads
hence to the Clyde, though it offers a convenient method
of terminating a tour in this quarter.

I think the Highlanders are more interested in the act
of drawing, and more civil about this matter than the peo-
ple elsewhere. That is a consequence of their general
intelligence and politeness ; nor do they always suppose,
as is common with the lower classes, that you are making
" plans of the country." In Jersey, I have been taken
up by a corporal and a file of men, and introduced to the
main guard. In Cornwall, I have been marched ten miles
to a justice of peace, as a horse stealer. In the same lu-
minous county, I have been taken for the merry Andrew
and distributor of drugs to a quack doctor. In Plymouth,
I have been carried by a Frenchman before the Port Ad-
miral. In Wales, ajack-ass, whom I met in the ruins of
Lamphey, was the only person who seemed to take any in-
terest in the matter. In every town and road of England,
all the people crowd round you ; the half pressing on
your shoulders and elbows, and the remainder standing
right in front. In the Highlands, they have held an um-
brella over me to keep off the rain, smoothed a stone for

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 37)