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

. (page 33 of 37)
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 33 of 37)
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of Coilivrochan. Some of these cannot fail to arrest the

TlJMEL. 425

most superficial attention ; others will be readily dis-
covered by the experienced student of nature; but, to
the multitude, they are a sealed book. Nor let the mul-
titude be surprised at hearing this ; for as well might
the spectacled crone who can read every word in her
Crook in the Lot, or the attorney whose literature never
wandered beyond the magical regions of a Qui tam or a
Quo minus, expect to appreciate the differences between
John Gilpin and John Milton, as he who has not studied
for that end, hope that, without an effort of his own
mind, the trees and mountains and rocks and rivers of
Nature, will arrange themselves into a landscape on his
sensorium. In almost every thing, she gives us little
more than the materials which it is our business to appro-
priate and to work up ; and though liberal in her land-
scape, there is much also that she offers in vain to him
who has not learnt to administer to himself.

By a singular felicity of accident, the casual building
here mentioned, has been run out into a long line; and,
by an accident no less fortunate, having been rudely
crenellated, and being entangled among trees, it as-
sumes, in the landscape, an air of castellated antiquity,
particularly appropriate to the scenery, and completing
that romantic character which so peculiarly belongs to
this spot. There is a fulness, a luxuriance of ornament,
and a minuteness of subdivision here, combined with the
rudeness, the breadth, and the grandeur of alpine scenery,
which is exceedingly rare, and which forms the peculiar
and distinctive character of this place. While the lateral
mountains display all that richness of outline, all that
irregularity of surface which is the produce of precipices
and hollows and ravines, and all that wildness of scattered
and intermingled wood and rock which belongs especially
to the rudest and grandest mountain scenery, the distant
boundary is the simple and single broad form of Ben

426 TUMEL.

Vrackie, finely pyramidal, and deeply ploughed by one
dark ravine, which descends, skirted with trees, till it is
lost in the lower woods of the valley. But the intricate
ornaments of the lateral boundaries do not detract from
the breadth and grandeur of their forms; rather, serving
to embellish them ; so that there is thus produced a basis
of landscape, the simplicity and consequent repose of
which, no profusion of ornament could afterwards destroy*
This is a valuable lesson which Nature teaches to art, and
no where more than in this very place ; not, according to
the current practice of indolence, or ignorance, or system,
to sacrifice every thing to breadth, and to what is called
repose, but to adopt every embellishment which the cha-
racter admits, rendering these subservient to the unity
and effect of the picture. If excess of ornament be an
error, it is when that is allowed to distract the eye ; when,
in contemplating the parts, we are unable to comprehend
a whole. But this is an error in excess : in art, it is the
error of inexperience, or of wantonness, or juvenility, and
it admits of easy correctives : for the error which, am-
bitious to deal only in generalities, produces nothing but
emptiness, there is no remedy.

You may imagine that my comparison resembles that
of the blind man who likened scarlet to the sound of a
trumpet; but this landscape always reminds me of some
of the symphonies of that great master of his art, Beet-
hoven. Listen to the violin part alone, and you will
imagine it to be a fantastical chaos of endless subdivision
and extravagance, without a connecting medium or a
possible harmony. Turn your attention to the orchestra,
and you have a composition, of the most magnificent re-
pose and simplicity, and with a continuous series of melo-
dies which would almost render the absence of the violin
imperceptible. United, you trace the power and the
dexterity of art; an excess of ornament, an extravagance

TUMEL. 427

of embellishment, restrained within the bounds of the
general design, and, like the innumerable stars in the
blue expanse, adding splendour to tranquillity and
breadth. This is a simile " a longue queue," I admit.
If you prefer a metaphysical to a musical comparison, it
resembles a well-conducted argument ; where, however
a luxuriant mind may wanton in illustration and orna-
ment, may riot amid the flowery fields of rhetoric, it still
keeps hold of the severer logic by which its end is to be
obtained ; playing like the wanton cat, with her fated
prey, but never suffering it to escape from its grasp.

Such is here the character of the landscape. On the
basis just described, is engrafted a profusion of ornamen-
tal detail that seems absolutely overwhelming, but which
leaves all the great features of the picture to produce
their full effect. As the southern mountain descends
into the deep and shadowy ravine which conducts the
river, it receives a broad mass of shade from its position
and depth, which supports the whole splendour of the
valley and of the opposfed hill ; where woods on woods in
endless succession, rise up the acclivities, subdivided
into a thousand forms by the knolls which they crown,
by the dark hollows and ravines which they fill, by the
strangely irregular shape of the valley, and by the intri-
cate course of the river beneath : while, to add to this un-
exampled profusion, naked rocks are dispersed through-
out the whole, and single and scattered trees, clambering
the mountain and perched on the margin of the sky, add
to the lightness and grace which ever attends the scenery
of birch forests, and which is increased by the pale green
and grey that forms the harmonious and tender colouring
of all this valley.

The little green glen of Fincastle offers a momentary
and pleasing relief to this continuous woody scenery ; and


hence, of two roads, the lower conducts to the river.
The upper proceeds with a similar character, still through
woods which seem never ahout to end, and hemmed in
by a towering and now narrow mountain pass which ap-
pears interminable. When, in an instant, in the space
of one yard, the whole, wood, mountain, and valley,
vanish as if they had never been, and there opens on our
dazzled sight, the spacious and splendid green vale of
the Tumel, glittering with trees and cultivation and
houses, and backed by the noble form of Schihallien,
from which the breaks of its bright river are seen wander-
ing along till they reach the brilliant lake beneath ; a
splendid mirror, reflecting the blue sky and the trees
M'hich adorn its lovely pastoral banks. From a lofty and
wooded precipitous rock at the left hand, this view,
under some variation, may be contemplated at leisure.
The lake is now far beneath our feet, and we look down
upon its exit where it is yet a contest between the cha-
racter of a river and that of a lake ; a fine and bold
wooded rock throwing its shadow over the water, which
here, black and silent, and reflecting the subdued co-
lours of the rocks and the trees which overhang it, gradu-
ally unites with the more distant blue expanse. Here also
we trace the progress of the vale, from the broad green
meadows checkered by the luxuriant ash trees which are
sprinkled all over it in gay profusion, to the more remote
plain, where, as they retire from the eye, the forms be-
come more grouped and more indistinct ; at length mix-
ing in one scene of rich and miniature confusion, which
vanishes at last in the accumulating haze of the distance,
without permitting us to define its termination. On each
side, the hills slope gently upwards ; the woods and the
cultivation still attending them, till, becoming brown and
rocky, they terminate in a varied outline on the sky.


The left hand range, particularly marked, displays the
long serrated and irregular ridge of Ferrogon, rising
gradually up into the blue and elegant cone of Schihal-
lien, the most graceful of mountains ; while, far in the
distance, is seen the triple mountain which separates
Loch Etive from Glenco.

In the opposite direction, we look back through the
close valley we have quitted, so that no contrast can well
be o-reater than that of these opposed landscapes ; each
equally magnificent, but in styles thoroughly contrasted
to each other. The valley has now, however, a character
entirely different from that which it presented near
Coilivrochan : more grand and more simple, but closing
at the bottom, and still guiding the eye along a profusion
of alpine ornament of rocks and woods, till the long vista
terminates, as before, in Ben Vrackie ; that mountain
which we are doomed never to lose through all the sur-
rounding country, which forms the leading feature at
Blair, as here, but which is always graceful and always
grand. It is a remarkable part of the character of this
spot, that an impression resembling that produced by
close scenery, is excited amidst magnitude and space.
We feel as if in and among the objects we are contem-
plating : the valley is under our feet, the mountains are
over our heads; it seems as if every tree was near and
about us. Yet all is overwhelming by its extent: and
even when the first confusion of mind produced by mag-
nitude and multiplicity subsides, we cannot well explain
to ourselves how this compound effect is produced.

Tracing, lastly, the line of the river, the character of
the scenery is still distinct, while the landscapes are
scarcely less numerous, or less rapid in their succession.
But I dare not dwell on them, or I should never quit this
fascinating spot. The great cascade of the Tumel, the


chief of these, may be seen from the southern bank of the
river, under a point of view little known, as well as from
the northern. Every where it is fine ; though, as I have
already said, it cannot be compared with that of Fyers.
They are both first in rank, of the Scottish cascades, each
in its distinct character: and though the altitude of the
present bears no comparison to those of the Clyde, no
one can hesitate an instant as to the preference. Except
those, I ought to say, whose sole notions of beauty, in
this matter, are regulated by the noise, the bulk, and
the turbulence ; who find nothing- in a waterfall but an
object of wonder, who are most contented where they
are most deafened, and to whom the criterion of merit
is to depart as far as possible from the soft gliding of
the New River, and the sleep of the canal in St. James's
Park. It is a peculiar and a rare merit in the cascade of
theTumel, that it is beautiful in itself, and almost without
the aid of its accompaniments. Though the water breaks
white, almost throughout, the forms are so graceful, so
varied, and so well marked, that we can look at it long,
without being wearied with monotony, and without at-
tending' to the surrounding landscape. Whether low or
full, whether the river glides transparent over the rocks,
to burst in foam below, or whether it descends like a
torrent of snow from the very edge, this fall is always
various and always graceful. The immediate accompani-
ments are,i however, no less beautiful and appropriate ;
and the general landscape is, at the same time, rich and
romantic; nothing being left to desire, to render this one
of the most brilliant scenes which our country produces.
I know not where the eifects of cascade scenery can
be more enjoyed, the impression which it produces can
be more felt, than here. If the principle of life, a princi-
ple that seems to animate all around, is one of the great


causes of the effect which the cascade produces on the
mind, not a little also is owing- to that image of eternity,
which its never beginning, never ending, flow conveys.
Nor is that the eternity of the river alone, which flows
and will flow on, till time is no more : but every moment
is a moment of power and effort, and every succeeding
effort is, like the former, unwearied, unabated. It is a
tempest and a fury that never cease. The other wars
of the elements are transient : the ocean billows subside
in peace, the thunder rolls away, and the leaves that
sounded to the tempest, soon glitter again with all their
bright drops in the sun-beam. But the cascade is eternal ;
every instant is a storm and a tempest, and the storm and
the tempest are for ever. It is a similar feeling which
overwhelms the mind in contemplating the grander
efforts of machinery ; the steam engine and the tilt ham-
mer. It is not only the power, the noise, the fire, and
the magnitude and brilliancy of these operations,
which dazzle and astonish us. Every moment is a mo-
ment of violence and effort, every instant seems the crisis
of some grand operation ; but every succeeding one is
like the former, and the unwearied storm of machinery is,
like the cascade, the emblem of eternity and of eternal

You will think that I never intend to quit the Tumel.
In truth, I am very sorry to part with it ; because I know
that when I do, I must shortly bid adieu to hill and dale,
forest and mead, to banks whereon the nodding violet
grows, and liquid lapse of murmuring streams. These
indeed are the pleasures to which there is no alloy. Let
who will, possess the lands, their beauties are the property
of all ; and even to the Lord of these wide domains, the
" laif," as old Dunbar says, is but " a sight." But if I
have often hastened over scenes long known, it was to


dwelJ on those which have been neglected. To make
them known, is equally to do that justice to our native
scenery which it has never yet received, and, to add to
the pleasures of those who may follow me ; while 1 can-
not help feeling a sort of parental affection for what I
could almost fancy myself to have discovered ; with less
of folly, at least, than the young gentleman who ima-
gined that he had made the discovery of Dryden's Ode
to Music. After all, the term discovery, in matters of
this nature, is rather of precarious application ; and, occa-
sionally, perhaps, not less ludicrous than the finding of
Alexander's Feast or the vale of the Tumel. If we deify
Columbus, who discovered a country known to ten mil-
lions of people, we should laugh at Jack Sacheuse, or
the Little Weasel chief of the Crees, should they return
to Greenland or the Great Slave lake, to announce to
their nations the discovery of Europe. He who makes
known to the fine gentlemen and ladies of England, what
was known before but to a few Highland shepherds, may
erect his pole and display his flag. 'Tis true, he cannot
take possession in the name of King George : and there's
the rub. Yet had his lot been cast in the days of James
" the first and sixth,'* he might even have done that.

The valley of the Tumel continues splendid, even in
its expansion; a bright vale of rich wood and green
meadows, united to that magnificence of the mountain
boundary, of which Schihallien always forms the prin-
cipal feature. Every where, Loch Tumel is the same
bright mriror : and, we might almost imagine that the
hand of art had been employed in forming and decorat-
ing what we know to be beyond its powers. Thus it has
a character of its own, utterly distinct from that of all
our lakes. The mountain boundaries do not press on it ;
and the landscape, therefore, is rather formed by the

TUMEL. 433

beautiful trees which adorn it, by the low banks, and by
the windings of the river, than by what we expect to find
in a Highland lake. Loch Tnmel, on its banks, might,
like the whole of its valley, be imagined a scene in the
rich plains of England.

To pass over much on which I dare not dwell, the
Tumel assumes a new character above Tumel bridge,
appearing in a succession of broken rapids and cascades,
often very picturesque; foaming among rocks whence
spring ancient and picturesque firs, and producing a va-
riety of romantic scenes resembling the Norwegian land-
scapes of Ruysdael. At Mount Alexander, its character
is once more changed : forcing its way through a narrow
and romantic pass under the foot of Schihallien, and be-
ing ornamented by the woods of this picturesque spot on
one side, and of Cvossmount on the other. The whole of
this space is exceedingly rich in that mixture of wood
and rock which is so characteristic of this skirt of
Schihallien ; and the various wider landscapes which are
found about this place, yield to few in extent of scope,
and in splendour of romantic and ornamented mountain

Mount Alexander derives some historic celebrity from
its poet, Struan; whose printed works, whatever their
poetical merit may be, display a disgusting mixture of
profligacy and religion. But I need not tell you what
they are. I looked for his argentine spring in vain ; it
appears to have been forgotten in the revolutions of time.
He, as all the world knows, was out in 1715. But his
estate, after having been restored, was forfeited again,
and annexed in 1745. He returned nevertheless, and
resided on it ; a poet and a sot. This was a somewhat
extensive clan, known by the name of Clan Donachie,
and supposed to be a ramification of Mac Donald. This



extensive estate, including* a large portion of Rannocli,
was granted, it is said, as a reward for apprehending-
Graham, the murderer of James the first. I know not
when this district belong-ed to the Mac Gregors, nor how
much of it they possessed. But the whole tract was a
long continued scene of their persecutions ; and many a
spot is now pointed out by the country people, where
some act of petty warfare or murder took place ; a preci-
pice whence some one was thrown, a rock where a des-
perate leap was made, or a cave in which some of this
proscribed clan were concealed. What supereminent
demerits the Mac Gregors possessed, it is almost too late
to ask : but they could not have been much worse than
the celebrated Mac Robert in James the fifth's time, a
noted specimen of the Clan Donachie banditti, nor than
that " last of all the Romans," Donald Bean Lean ; whose
conceptions of the nature of international justice do not
seem to have been very clear, when he imagined that he
had a right to any man's cow, but that no one had a
right to hang him in return.

It is easy to ascend Schihallien from Kinloch, as the
distance is not great. Its mathematical celebrity offers a
natural temptation to this attempt ; but, in other respects,
it will produce disappointment. Viewed from this eleva-
tion, the valley of the Tumel appears trifling as it is
remote ; and Loch Rannoch affords no beauty to com-
pensate for it. With little exception, all else is a heap of
mountains, among which the eye traces few striking
forms ; while the great elevation of Ben Lawers excludes
the southern horizon, where the most beauty would be
expected. In a similar manner. Glen Lyon is shut out,
by the breadth and altitude of the interposed mountains.
It was in vain that I souo-ht for the remains of Dr. Mas-
kelyne's observatories; for time seems to have performed


its appointed duty towards them. But I discovered what
I had long before suspected : the error of this celebrated
experiment, and the consequent wreck of its conclusions.
Nor did our late friend Play fair succeed in effectually
correcting them by his geological investigation; since
that itself was insufficiently'conducted ; having proceeded
on an incorrect and superficial view of the structure of
the mountain. A fundamental element in this problem
remains therefore yet unassigned : that, namely, which
implies the specific gravity of Schihallien. Still, his
correction forms a much nearer approximation to the true
density of the earth than the original computation ; while
both the attempts prove the importance of geology, even
in questions of astronomy, and serve to draw a strong
line between that science, when judiciously pursued,
and that which is too often dignified by this name among
the collectors of cockleshells and specimens. But all is
vanity alike. While the very words are falling from my
pen, Dr. Hutton is gone where, we trust, all the labyrinths
of the universe will be revealed to him; leaving, to ma-
thematicians, a name seldom equalled for science, for
utility, never; and, to his friends, the memory of a cha-
racter adding to that science an unwearied fund of know-
ledge and conversation, a cheerful and kind disposition,
and the simplicity of a child. Smeaton, Maskelyne,
Burrowes, Playfair, all are gone. My turn is next.
While I write, my pen threatens to stop for ever. It will
remain for another to determine the attractions of Schi-
hallien. He too must follow : but the mountain will re-
main ; a monument to its mathematicians, to terminate
only with the great globe itself.

Time too has clutched the knavish Donachie who
erected himself to the post of my guide ; uninvited.
There was some ingenuity in this particular Vulture, en-

F F 2


titling- him to a distinction among that new class of Cear-
nachs, now to be found wherever a Saxon traveller is seen
or expected. Why he concluded that I was an astro-
nomer or a mathematician I know not ; unless he saw the
mark of a parabola, or a sinister aspect, in the third house
of my face. But he talked of zenith distances, and of
Dr. Maskelyne, and was, I doubt not, very profound when
he was in proper company. He should be happy to ac-
company me if I would permit him ; he would meet me on
the morrow, and explain every thing. I wanted no ex-
planation. I suppose he thought otherwise; for, the next
day, he was at my elbow. I thought this somewhat too
much ; however, for the honour of astronomy, I gave him
a crown. I found that he had expected a guinea : which,
assuredly, was perfectly mathematical ; because if the
former was a proper fee for two hours of hire, what re-
ward could be sufficient for him who had generously
volunteered his services. As he turned off, grumbling, I
prepared for my own departure ; when I discovered that
this scientific scion of Clan Donachie had taken care to
arrive at the inn the night before, where he had regaled
himself with all the delicacies he could procure, repeat-
ing the same process in the morning, and, for the third
time, having ordered a dinner, to be registered in the
astronomical bill. This was the very cube of Highland
knavery; but unless he and the landlord solved the
equation between them, it remains undetermined to this

The beauties of the Tumel cease at Mount Alexander.
There is none at Kinloch Rannoch, and the general view
of this lake is insipid ; as its boundaries have no marked
character, and as the hills of Glenco, which form the remote
distance, are lost in that very distance. But the south
side of Loch Rannoch offers a very beautiful ride through-


out its whole length of nine miles ; yet if it presents any
decided landscapes, they are unknown to me. To dis-
cern landscape where it is not very obvious, and, some-
times, even to see it where it is, requires an undivided
attention, even from those who have made this subject
their study. Often have I passed through the Highlands,
thinking of their agriculture or their economy, or watch-
ing the people, or the rocks, or the plants, or perchance
dreaming, and, when the joiuney was over, have noted it
as void of beauty. On another occasion, and in another
season, I have almost wondered if it was the same scenery.
Never yet was it a land of pictures when there were
angles to be measured or a mountain of trap to entrap my
attention. Such are the ups and downs of our observa-
tion ; while it is the fault of the hobby horse of the day,
that he is very apt to kick his rivals out of the paddock.*
This is often the real excuse of travellers, when they are
accused of inattention. If there be a man who can see
every thing, it is certain that there is no one who, like
Argus, can see every thing at the same time. Of simul-
taneous objects, some will not be seen at all ; and of simul-
taneous impressions, some will not adhere. Among the
herd, he who grubs in beetles and botany, will never
raise his eye to the beauty of the temple or the sublimity
of the mountain ; and if he whose object is to study and
delineate the drift of states and men, can also descend to
material nature, it is very certain that it will often pass
before his eyes, iniageless. unimpressive.

The leading character of this shore of Loch Rannocb,
lies in the fir wood which skirts it, rising high up the

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 33 of 37)