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 35 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 35 of 37)
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difficult to discover in what respect they belonged to the
bold names which they have inherited from their warlike

The romance is pretty nearly expiring : and to those
who have found it much otherwise in their books, I can
only say, travel, look, enquire. Let them travel the
country where they please, if they will but take care to
wipe the Highland mist well off from their eyes, they
shall see as various a people, and puzzle themselves as
much to reconcile the facts and their theories, as they
may perchance be puzzled by my lucubrations, or as
wiser politicians have often puzzled themselves before in
their speculations on a national character.

It is not very easy to separate ideas of beauty and of
picturesque scenery from that of a lake ; particularly,
after an intimacy with those of Perthshire and Dumbar-
ton, or in the minds of those, to whom the word lake recalls
all the briffht remembrances connected with Cumberland
and Westmoreland. Yet lakes, like ladies, are not neces-
sarily beautiful : and after laking it for some years
through all the Scottish ones, I have come to the conclu-
sion that nearly half of my labour has been thrown away.

G G 2


Still, the very name lake is something: and it is some-
thing- to have pursued Loch Ericht, over moor and moun-
tain, through bog and heath, though the result should
have proved but an enormous gutter, or a huge cess-pool.
The half of our pleasures are no better. You meet a
pack of ferocious barking curs galloping across a coun-
try, and, by and bye, comes another pack, of auxiliary
hounds, as Butler calls them, mounted and mad, bloody
with spurring, fiery red with haste, supposing that they
are pursuing a miserable hare or a stinking long-tailed
fox. In time, it is reported that the prey is taken, pulled
to pieces, and swallowed ; and the arrival and the death
of the supposed joy are one: the imagined happiness is
realized in another supposition, and it is gone. It might
be an improvement in this case to suppose the dogs and
horses too : for the one supposition would be as valid as
the other.

But he who is bogged to his saddle bows first, and
his own neck afterwards, in attempting to reach Loch
Ericht, will not at least suppose himself wandering
through flowery meads of asphodel. He who wishes to
see this lake must seek it, A walk indeed from Dal-
whinnie will shew its northern extremity : but, certainly,
he who sees that, will not desire to see more. However,
it is not all so bad : for though, like Loch Shin and Loch
Ness, its margin is without variety, and that the hills
descend plumb to the water, so as to give it that ditch-like
character which these display, the loftiness of the boun-
daries, and the extreme steepness of the acclivities in
some places, confer a striking air of wildness on it.
Moreover, these declivities are, in many parts, rocky, and
marked by huge precipices; while the scattered and
perishing remains of the ancient birch forests on its
eastern margin, serve to add some kind of ornament to


its general air of desolation and solitude. If the western
bank presents no great attractions, it enjoys imperishable
fame in its Tober na phaisaic at least : an 'Ayfljvo'vnotless
celebrated than that of Eleusis, and bidding fair to be
somewhat longer remembered by all honest Highlandmen.

At the southern extremity, Loch Ericht terminates in
flat meadows, vanishing by degrees in the moor of Ran-
noch, and in that wild and hideous country which ex-
tends to Glen Spean along the eastern side of Ben Nevis.
This is indeed the wilderness of all Scotland. The wild-
est wilds of Rossshire and Sutherland are accessible and
lively, compared to this. They might, at least, contain
people though they do not; which this tract never could
have done, and never will nor can. I know not where else
we can travel for two days without seeing a human trace :
a human trace, — a trace, a recollection, of animal life;
and with the dreary conviction that such a thing is im-
possible. It is indeed an inconceivable solitude; a dreary
and joyless land of bogs, a land of desolation and grey
darkness, of fogs ever hanging on Auster's drizzly beard,
a land of winter and death and oblivion. Let him who is
unworthy of the Moor of Rannoch be banished hither:
where he can go next, 1 know not; unless it be to New
South Shetland, Everywhere else in Scotland, wild as
it may be, (and assuredly it is often wild enough,) if we
do not see the marks of a living world, of something that
speaks of man or beast or insect, we can yet conceive that
such things might have been, or that they may be at some
future time. If even there is not much expectation of
life, there is still the hope left. But, here, to live, is im-
possible: and if there are any trout in its waters, doubt-
less they escape to Loch Ericht, or elsewhere, as fast as
they can.

Certainly, if a traveller has nothing to do but to hunt


after scenery, he may spare himself the toil of a journey
to Loch Ericht; it is to toil without reward. There are
persons, however, who have thought it worth their la-
bour to come here, for no other purpose than to see
one of the hundred places where Prince Charles was con-
cealed between the periods of his defeat and escape.
It is lucky that I have met with a Prince, to elevate the
dignity of my travels a little, after all the previous base
and beggarly account of shillings and sixpences, fitted
only for '< the reckoning of a tapster." But life will
have its ups and downs ; and travelling too : and if I
owed my Highland friends the best defence I could
make for them, how could I have pleaded their cause
without bringing all the parties into court. Details are a
sad drawback on dignity : but I have the example of
Demosthenes to back me ; and even the veracious his-
torian who relates the fall of empires and the devouring
march of armies, is condemned to notice that his armies
were without shoes and that their shirts were in rags.
This particular spot was certainly as well chosen for con-
cealment as was the wild country itself in which it is
situated. The place, such as the Highland shepherd
pointed it out, though called a cave, was merely the in-
terval between two huge masses of rock, that had so
fallen as to meet somewhat like the roof of a house ; and
these were but two masses out of many hundreds that were
scattered for miles along the face of the mountain. This
cavity would with difficulty have held three people; but
it is said that they had erected a wicker hut, called the
cage, at the opening, so as to have rendered it somewhat
more spacious and commodious.

I have an excellent opportunity now of gaining such
praise for my historical, topographical, and antiquarian
accuracy, as I much fear will never come to my share ;


for, in the very inn at Kinlocli Rannoch, I read the
whole story in John Home : a very unusual piece of good
luck. Let him who would acquire this kind of fame,
take care to have his books at his elbow : he who chooses
to leave that glory to his predecessors, and to his suc-
cessors as it may chance, must submit to be called names
as well as he can. Let him at least take care of his little
red book and of his daily entries ; lest, trusting to the
tablet of his brain, he finds that, like the colour of his
mistress's cheek, the impression is faded, or that he has
wandered, like Christian, into bye-path meadow, and
has lost his track before he is aware of his deviations.
After all, which is worst; a little original blundering, or
the tenth transmitted copy of a foolish tale. I doubt, as
the Lord Chancellor says. Let John Home, however,
sleep in peace at present : or seek him, if you please,
where he is to be found ; in his own pages : or else, what
will do quite as well, in your own head, Sir Walter.

My landlord's library at Kinloch Rannoch had one
prime merit, at least in the eyes of the Roxburghe club :
for it was very black. Nothing is much more amusing- at
times, than the libraries of these Highland inns: and I
need scarcely say how creditable to the people it is, to
find these unexpected books in these unexpected places.
To be sure, they are often " neither new nor rare;" still
you " wonder how the devil they got there." I have met
with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in a house of dyvots
and thatch; if that is a phenomenon, what will you say
of Lempriere's Dictionary, and of Montaigne; Mon-
taigne, himself, in his own egotistical amusing na-
tive dress. On the same shelves, I have seen Pope's
Odyssey, Virgil, not Dr. Trapp's I assure you, but the
genuine Mantuan, in his own cloak, a Treatise of Men-
suration, Grotius de Veritate, Quin's Book-keeping by


double entry, Clarke's Ovid, Guthrie's Grammar, the
Spectator; and far more, and more strange mixtures.
As to the good books, such as Hervey and Boston, and
countless more, and countless worse and more unintel-
ligible, always excepting John, the great John Bunyan,
there is always store of them. What most of these good
books, as they are politely termed, are good for, it would
be somewhat hard to say ; particularly when they deal in
" experiences" and other such confessional exposes.
Lord Shaftesbury calls this " taking physic in public ;"
and, truly, they are often medicinal enough. But we
are in danger of losing sight of Prince Charles amid
these concatenations.

In examining this unfortunate personage's different
hiding places, as I have done, and in tracing his migra-
tions, we cannot help wondering at the necessity of such
frequent and, as happened more than once, injudicious,
not to say perilous, changes. The reward was unques-
tionably great ; but unless Highlanders themselves had
been his blood-hounds, he could scarcely have been
discovered in any one of the places where he took refuge.
English soldiers might have hunted him in vain till now.
Of the fidelity of his immediate attendants, no one seems
to have doubted ; and that some splendid and heroic
examples of attachment were displayed, is well known.
Yet we can scarcely help thinking that he must have
been betrayed, or at least followed and hunted, on some
occasions, by those who knew both him and the country
well ; having finally been saved, only by the zeal, at-
tachment, and resources, of the few true hearts who
never forgot him.

This virtue of fidelity is one for which, among many
others, the Highlanders have been praised, and justly. To
repeat the noted story of Kennedy, or others of the same


date, or of the rewards offered for this unlucky Prince,
would be to take the trouble of writing what every one
knows. The most extraordinary instance of fidelity, how-
ever, on record, is that which occurred in the reign of
James V; when the Earl of Moray, who had made some
prisoners in a battle with Macintosh, in which the chief
had escaped, proposed terms of pardon to any one who
would discover his retreat; which the whole refusing, even
at the gallows, an hundred and thirty were hanged. If
this tale has even been exaggerated, it will bear a little,
without losing its value. Like Virgil, however, I fancy
we must consider this as a kind of prisca fides; though,
to lament over its loss, would be quite as silly as Virgil
himself; who might as well have grieved that his kitten
had grown to a cat. The truth is, that this extreme
fidelity, like many other extreme virtues, belongs to
periods of imperfect civilization; and, thus far only, was
it ever a national character, or will it ever be. It was as
much the virtue of the whole race as of Kennedy; and I
doubt not that hundreds might have been found who
would have acted in a similar manner. But, in the same
way, it was the virtue of the sera rather than of the
people. Not that I mean to detract from the merit of the
Highlanders in this respect. They possessed the virtue
in question, whatever the cause may have been ; and it
is far from unlikely that there are many who possess it
still. Virtue is a good thing, arise from what it may.

I may say the same of their honesty with regard to
exposed property, which has been, foolishly, ridiculed;
and I might do so, were it necessary, of many other
things. But the fact in general, is a fact with regard to
the race of man ; not the characteristic of this or of any
other single people. Neither you, nor I, nor deeper
moralists than either of us, can explain why civilization


refines away these extremes of virtue, great and small ;
for it happens in both : as if the perfections of a rude
people were, like their faults, asperities that necessarily
wore off in polishing. Wherever we find a barbarous
people, we find something of a similar character: virtues,
refinements, even etiquettes, that would shame all the
civilization of all Europe. The bread and salt, the oath
of an Arab to his guest, even were it his enemy, is a
noted example. The American Indian provides a house
for the stranger : his name is not asked ; it might be that
of a hostile tribe. It was formerly the same in the High-
lands : precisely ; and has often been told of them as an
exclusive merit. The taboo of the South Seas is but one
of many things which we might in vain strive to establish
among ourselves. But indeed all the etiquettes of these
singular people are as singular as they are rigidly ob-
served. Such barbarous refinements leave even those of
the ages of chivalry far behind ; and I doubt not that the
very same causes aided in producing the same effects ;
giving rise to those specimens of superfine and romantic
politeness, those ultra observances, about which we have
all either written or read romances. Who is it that tells
us, that, in Africa, a mere mat placed at the door, is suf-
ficient to prevent the entrance of any one ; nay, even that
of the husband who knows that the gallant is present
with his wife. In other places a pair of slippers is a
taboo fully as efiUcacious. Commerce is carried on among
many people, of nearly the same standing in civilization,
in a manner in which the gentlemen of Lombard-street
would not be long of outwitting each other. But the
instances are endless ; and in fact, when an uncivilized
race does possess any of these virtues, small or great,
they are always more perfect than among their refined
neighbours. Law and order, which take from us the


charge of our own personal security and defence, seem to
take care for our virtues also. They make machines of
us: or, if not machines, calculators. In such a case as
this, in a people of law and order and commerce, of regu-
lation and system and quid pro quo, fidelity is a com-
modity of no price ; because, from its very nature, it can
have no reward. The application of this principle to the
virtue of hospitality, is too trite : but you will see that it
also assists in explaining the politeness so characteristic
of the Highlanders. This mode of that virtue, is, as a
logician might say, inherent : that which follows refine-
ment is adherent ; and, unluckily, when the original sur-
face is ground off", the new varnish is apt not to stick at
all. I shall leave you to spin this out into a system.

It is absolutely necessary, in all tours, outlandish or
domestic, insular or continental, to abuse inns and postil-
lions, and all else, be it what it may, in which the coun-
try ad quem differ from the country a quo ; most parti-
cularly, if that latter be England. How else should a
traveller till up his pages, and make two or three octa-
vos ; or six quartos ; as it may happen. If you doubt,
consult Twiss, or— but why fill a page with names; the
rule is established. And in conformity to it, while the
very dinner at Kinloch Rannoch still crowds, in all its
vacuity of substances, on my soul, I am going to abuse a
Highland dinner : of which I thus give you due notice,
that you may skip the next page if you please. Different
philosophers, you know, each according to his own trade,
say that the civilization of a country is best known by the
state of its roads, or its women, or its police, or its postil-
lions, or its theatres, or its literature, or its sign posts.
The French say it is all in the Cuisine. I hope, by the
bye, that you have not dined ; for it makes a wonder-
ful difference whether these things are discussed on an


empty or a full stomach. Hie impransi mecum disquirite:
the authority is classical ; and I quote it, that I may
prove to you that I could read the tablet at Dalwhinnie.
If the French hypothesis be the true one, then are the
Highlands — what must not be told : always excepting
the exceptions; as in duty bound. The west is worse
than the east ; that is true ; and the middle worse than
the circumference. Always the same never-ending din-
ner : no attempt at variation in the nutritive art. Boiled
mutton and roasted mutton, roasted mutton and boiled
mutton: without even the meritorious variety of the Cu-
rate's rabbits. And then, a fowl whose progress you have
traced from the midden to the table, who was making
" tyrannic love" as Purcell calls it, " stoutly strutting" to
his wives, an hour before; crowing defiance from his
dunghill of vantage, and now about to crow in your crop.
If you see a fish, it is one swimming in the lake or the
river at the door; unless you chance to fall on a shoal
of herrings by good luck. As to beef or veal, you might
as well expect to meet them in Hindostan. A hog in-
deed is not an object of worship, like a calf: but then he
is tabooed for other reasons, and therefore no hams hang-
from the black ceiling, brighter to a hungry guest than
pearls would be in an iEthiop's ear, nor does the cate-
nated and goodly pudding dangle in lovely festoons from
the rafters. If the Muse turns to sing of vegetables, what
does she find : a potatoe. A potatoe, if potatoes are ripe :
if not, nothing. Long you may long for some of the leeks
and onions which the masons devoured at the pyramids:
but why talk of such superfluities as these, when you
might as well seek for a banana, as for carrot, turnip, pea,
bean, celery, thyme, parsley, — and small herbs, as Mrs.
Glasse says. Kale ; — is not kale Scottish, par excellence ;
yet who ever saw kale, cabbage, or brocob\ or any one of


the whole tribe of sauer kraut. You may look too till
you are weary, for pudding- and pye and all their hosts :
you will not here be troubled to determine the physical
and metaphysical difference between a pudding and a
pye. Dr. Johnson said, half a century ago, that the High-
landers had eggs and milk, but had not learned to com-
pound them into a custard : perhaps it is from their anger
at him, that they have not learnt it yet. Moreover, as
misfortunes never come " by single files, but in batta-
lions," where the meat is bad, the cookery is bad, the
fire is bad, the bell is broke, the salt is black, and the
mutton is cold before the potatoes are warm. What would
Catius say to all this. You probably will say — enough.
But you must bear a little more; for I have Horace him-
self for authority, as well as Le Sage. I shall not, how-
ever, treat you with as many dinners as Gil Bias, or even
Homer, has done: content with telling you how you may
dine ; as I fear that, in spite of these examples, you would
find more than one of these dinners rather indigestible.

For indeed the gastronomy of this country is not
commendable : nor aught that is connected with it. A
dumb waiter is but a substitute, at best; but what is that
to a deaf one. At Callander, you may ring the bell forty
times in a quarter of an hour, or else for a quarter of an
hour at one time : it is pretty much the same. At Luss,
you wait four hours for your dinner, the cloth being laid ;
and if there be any bread, you have devoured it all be-
fore the dinner arrives. When it does, it consists of her-
rings which might have been cooked in ten minutes, and
of mutton which was cooked yesterday. Unless indeed
the time has been more justifiably expended in killing
the sheep. At Broadford there is a picturesque dish of
milk set on the table at four o'clock, with salt, mustard,
and knives and forks. The problem is how to eat milk
with a knife and fork ; but, at five, a shoulder of mutton


entei-s to apologize for them. In half an hour more, you
have a plate full of potatoes and the cheese ; and when
you have eaten the cheese and said grace, you receive a
dish offish. At this very Kinloch Rannoch, you are pro-
mised kale, good mutton kale : you mistake kale for
cabbage, foolishly enough ; and find a species of barley
water, spangled with the glittering drops elicited from a
few mutton bones, in which it is difficult to discover whe-
ther the meat or the bone is hardest.

Supposing also that you travel in the mutton time of
the year : — for if you do not — : the mutton is placed on
the table. Do you prefer it roasted or boiled. Only wish,
and the thing is before you. If roasted, it has been so
begravied with hot water that it is boiled: if boiled, it
has been kept so long at the fire, to wait for the salt, or
the mustard, or Peggy, that it is roasted. Then, what
with dry potatoes, dry oatcakes, and the water of the Tay
and the Tumel and of all the rivers of the Highlands, of
which you cannot procure one drop, you are shortly in
the condition of Pantagruel when he had breakfasted on
Euphorbium. Whatever you do, beware of that thing
called a mutton chop. Boiled fowls you may know by
the impossibility of eating them, any more than as you
might eat oakham ; and roasted ones, by the blackness
of their skins. Eggs, there are none, in mutton time;
because then the hens are confined, as the phrase is here :
and the effect of confinement on hens is just the reverse
of what it is upon our own females. If the salt is black,
however, the table cloth is white. Thus censure delights
in many words, and praise in few. Eat your dinner,
prepare for it with Spartan sauce, drink your whisky,
and above all keep your good humour ; for after all, what
is a dinner when it is eaten. Would that life had nothing
worse than the worst Highland dinner you and I shall
ever be condemned to eat.



If Ben Nevis were to tumble down, or Loch Lomond
to be evaporated to-morrow, the printers' demons who
construct the tour books, would still, like Eustace, go on
describing their height, and length, and depth, and
breadth, and beauties. You and I take another course,
in seeking for something new ; and if we do no more, we
shall at least furnish them with some fresh plunder. But
I must premise that you cannot travel from Blair to Brae-
mar in a gig : indeed you must often reverse the plan of
Master Robert Hewitt, and use two legs when four are
weary, or puzzled. Lovers of ease must enter by the Spital
of Glenshee, or else from the eastward.

Glen Tilt itself belongs to the scenery of Blair ; of
which indeed it forms an important part. The Tilt, flow-
ing from a small lake in the hills, holds its way through
a valley so narrow as seldom to give room for more than
the river ; while, in many places, its channel is only a
ravine, made by its own corroding action, through the
solid rocks. This valley, throughout its whole course, is
of a character purely its own ; distinguished from every
other Highland glen, no less by its extreme depth, nar-
rowness, and prolongation, than by the wildness of its
upper extremity and the highly ornamented beauty of
that part which approaches to Blair. A very magnifi-
cent landscape occurs immediately on entering the glen,
where the river is just seen, rushing deep through its
dark chasm overshadowed by the graceful birches, whose


silvery trunks,' springing from the rocks, hang" their light
and transparent foliage above the water. There is no
place, not even the Tumel, where the character of the
birch is more perfect and more beautiful than at Blair;
tall, graceful, and full in foliage, generally erect, but
often drooping in elegant forms, while, in the forest, it
has all the beauty that arises from roundness and fulness
of outline. The landscape never wants wood where there
is birch ; and there is none that would suit so well the
style and colouring of the scenery. Tn this spot, the
hills on each side rise to a great height; green, or culti-
vated, or densely wooded, or covered with wild groups
and single trees of oak and ash as well as of birch ; while,

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 35 of 37)