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 5 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 5 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

marked instances, I have been able to name the very hill


from which some particular stone has travelled. In the same
manner, having examined the scenery of all these rivers,
I think I can say that the Tay, when all the waters that
meet in its firth are included, contains a proportion of
picturesque beauty equal to that of all the rest of the
interior of Scotland. Besides many smaller lakes, it in-
cludes Loch Lydog, Loch Ericht, Loch Rannoch. Loch
Tumel, Loch Tay, Loch Lyon, Loch Lochy, Loch Doch-
art. Loch Earn, and the three Lochs of the Lowes, with
those of Clunie and Marlie; the whole presenting a
great proportion of beautiful lake scenery, of which some
has already been noticed. The scenery of its valleys is
comprised chiefly in those of the Tilt^ the Tumel, the
Garry, the Isla, and of its two last tributaries, the Lyon,
and the Earn ; and in that of the Tay itself. Those of the
Tumel, the Garry, and the Tilt, will hereafter be described ;
and that of the Isla and its tributaries, comprising part
of Strathraore, was just noticed: those of the Lyon and
the Earn are worthy of ranking with them, as well for
richness as for picturesque beauty.

Besides this species of landscape, its various rivers,
great and small, present beauties as various in character
as they are remarkable; some belonging to the rivers
themselves, some to the glens through which they run,
and which are generally of too confined a nature to be
included in what I have called vale scenery. A slender
enumeration of these will convey a sufficient notion of
them, to justify, in addition to what I have already said
of the scenery of the lakes and valleys, the high rank
which I assign to the Tay in the general landscape of
Scotland. The beauties of the Tilt and the Garry, are
augmented by innumerable lateral rivers and torrents of
more or less note, comprising cascades, and what may
be called ravine landscape, under a great variety of forms.


The Erochkie running through a pleasing and narrow
valley, deserves to be included among these. The course
of the Gowar from Loch Lydog, and that of the Ericht
from Loch Ericht, both contributing to form the Tumel
through the intervention of Loch Rannoch, are without
beauty; but the Tumel itself receives numerous smaller
streams throughout its whole course, displaying many
picturesque scenes which it would be equally endless and
fruitless to name. The remoter courses of theDochartand
the Lochy, which unite to form Loch Tay, have very little
interest ; but at Killin, where they meet, they atone, by
their numerous and extraordinary landscapes, for much' of
the preceding blank. The chief part of the course of the
Lyon is included in the enumeration of the vale scenery :
but it receives many beautiful lateral streams, of which
the Keitnie is scarcely exceeded for picturesque charac-
ter, by any river of similar dimensions in Scotland. Of the
minor waters which fall immediately into the Tay, the
enumeration would be tedious ; but those of Moness and
Dalguise, though the first perhaps in rank, are but exam-
ples of a class of beauty which is found dispersed through-
out the whole. The rivers which fall in the same manner
into Loch Tay, deserve also a high place in this enume-
ration. Nor must the Braan and the Almond be forgot-
ten ; since, either on these, or on their smaller tributaries,
much picturesque landscape in many different styles will
be found. To the eastward, we have all the streams
which feed the Airdle and the Erroch, together with
these larger rivers, and those which, often in a far differ-
ent style of beauty, join the Isla. The mountain torrents
which form the higher part of the Isla, belong to a very
different species of landscape from those which join it in
Strathmore, of which the Dean and the Melgam are the
chief; and the great cascade of the Reeky Linn, near


Alytb, among* much more in this style, is a fine example, in
this class, belonging to a set of waters which are collected
from a great extent of alpine country. Lastly comes
the Earn ; the monarch of a thousand tributaries which
it would be endless to enumerate, but of the beauties of
which, examples may be taken from the wild course of the
Lednachjthe Ruchil, the water of Edinample, and others
which I must now dismiss, as I must terminate this sketch
altogether. Could I place before you one tenth of these
landscapes, or even my own portfolios, not containing one
hundredth of that tenth, I think you would not refuse to
the Tay the title which it most justly deserves, of the
king of all the rivers of Britain.

On the southern Strath Tay road, I must point out
the singular house of Grandtully, as I cannot pretend
to specify its various landscapes. As a specimen of
the French, or Flemish, architecture of this country,
since it may pass under either name, it is amusing and
picturesque ; though wanting consequence, because of
its small scale. It cannot, however, be compared to the
beautiful examples of this style in Aberdeenshire, nor, of
course, to Glamis, to which, in point of size, it is a mere
toy. It is to be regretted that when Scotland was copying
or imitating this architecture, it did not always chuse good
specimens ; and that it should so often have chanced upon
deformity instead of beauty, in applying its pepper boxes
and extinguishers to its heavy square unmeaning masses
of tower. The value, and the attainable beauty of this
style, must have been understood somewhere, or we never
should have possessed Heriot's hospital; but how the
same people that built this, and which had it daily in
view, could have done what it has done at Edinburgh, in
twenty places that I need not name, surpasses com-
prehension. I shall spare you the enumeration of


hideous examples of this style, whether in Edinburgh or
in the country, as there is no pleasure in dwelling- on de-
formity. But, besides Heriot's hospital and Giarais, the
three specimens which highly deserve to be selected for
their beauty, are Fyvie, Clunie, and Castle Fraser ; and
that, in the order in which I have placed them. Fyvie is
truly a magnificent as well as a picturesque specimen of
this architecture ; and had the design been completed, it
would have exceeded Glamis in every respect. Even as
it is, it excels it in g-randeur and breadth of style, and in
a mode of composition more uniformly consistent through-
out. It is a considerable fault in Glamis, notwithstand-
ing its picturesque beauty and interest, that the want of
sufficient variety of projection in its walls, a defective
ground plan in short, prevents it from taking such masses
of light and shade as are required to support the orna-
ments above. This is particularly true of the back part
of the building; which rises to a great and disagreeable
height, a flat bare wall, carrying aloft a quantity of super-
structure which almost appears incongruous, and which
renders the nakedness of the body of the building more
sensible. It is also a leading fault in Giarais, that the
various turrets and crowning parts, are too numerous
and crowded; adding confusion to their picturesque
effect, and forming a line on the sky, which, however
irregular, is still too flat in the general bounding outline.
The eye too is not well able to group the parts ; nor do
they support themselves more by a general shadow and
light, than they do by the design and composition.

If the design of Clunie is far less grand than that of
Fyvie, it is a much more picturesque building. It pro-
duces indeed a degree of surprise which I have scarcely
ever seen equalled in architecture : and as all this is
effected by the contrast and disposition of large masses


and great lines, the result is far from deficient, even in
grandeur. Nothing here depends on petty ornaments ;
and the composition altogether marks a mind perfect in
the higher departments of art, and an architectural con-
ception formed on the principles of landscape. Van-
brugh appears to have had the same feelings respecting
rural architecture ; but he never conceived any thing half
so good. Excellent as it is in the outline, it is even more so
in that which is so general an object of neglect, and which
is yet so important : the property of so receiving light and
shade in almost every position of the sun, as to produce
those effects so indispensable to landscape, and of so much
value in architecture. The style of Castle Fraser is from
the same architectural school ; but the design is utterly
different from those of all the preceding buildings. It is
also of different periods; yet the additions have been
made in so good a taste, that they do not injure that to
which they do not absolutely belong. Its round tower,
the principal part of the original building, offers a model,
whether in its general design and proportion, or in its
ornaments, which those who labour in and about a Gothic
which they seldom comprehend, would do well to study.

It is in vain to say that this style, which has no proper
name, is neither Greek, nor Gothic, nor Moorish, nor of
any assignable manner, or to affect to despise it as
Tudesque or Flandrikan. So much the greater is the
merit of those who invented it; and name it as we may,
it is sufficient that it is picturesque and appropriate. It
is the merest pedantry to judge of architecture, or indeed
of any thing else, in this manner. The object is beauty,
after utility; and, not only abstract, but appropriate
beauty. It is the merit of this manner, that though it
may neither resemble Gothic, nor Greek, nor Palladian,
nor any mode which has had a name, it is founded on the


general principles of beauty in art. Its lines are grand,
its masses are broad, it admits of ornaments either large
or minute, or it can dispense with them. It is tied to no
rules as to their disposition, any more than it is in its
general design ; as its purpose is attained in many ways,
and as its objects are general, not particular. Hence
its variety is endless ; a matter, in itself, of infinite merit,
since nothing can be more wearisome, be its abstract
beauty what it may, than the almost eternal identity of
Greek and Roman, and the far too frequent sameness of
Italian architecture. The same columns, the same pedi-
ments, the same porticos, the same windows,the same roof:
every thing is the same, vary it as we may within the al-
lowed limits, and every one house is too often but a copy or
a translation of another. Whatever may be the merits of
the Elizabethan architecture, or of Vanbrugh's, this style
may be allowed to exceed them in every one of those
points which form their chief boast. As applicable to the
country, or as contributing objects to landscape, it excels
them in every way, as it does equally the several classical
styles: no less from its endless variety, than its intrinsic
picturesque effects, and the power of adapting it to any
position, or to any character or composition of landscape.
As far as we can judge from the current applications of
the Gothic to buildings of this class, it is even preferable
to that system for these purposes. In this style we may
build churches and abbeys, or castles; or,if we please, we
may intermix them, as is the case with an hundred barba-
risms which we see every day; or else, like Taymouth, build
a church on the top of a castle. But all this is bad when
the object is a dwelling house. It is often incongruous, ge-
nerally inconvenient, and always expensive. Nor indeed
does the Gothic style offer any models for dwelling houses.
Its dwelling houses were its abbeys or its castles, and


these were on a large scale. When we attempt to reduce
them to a small size, they become mean. The turrets of
the castle, whicli were meant to contain men, will scarcely
hold a cat, the towers will hardly admit staircases, much
less chambers, the battlements are like the ornaments in
an escutcheon, and, instead of the machicolations, we have
a paltry pretence which we hate or despise. But any
scale will receive the style under review, and its re-
sources, on all scales, are endless. But my dissertation
will become endless too; and I must recollect that my
business is with Strath Tay, not with architecture. In
the mean time, I hope that our architects are beginning
to comprehend the value of this system, because I per-
ceive that Wilkins has been taking measurements of some
of these very buildings. It is quite time that we should
cast off all our trammels in art ; in architecture, as in
every thing else. There was a time when all but the
classical styles were equally despised ; and had not
another race sprung up, in contempt even of Wren, not
only should we have remained ignorant of our splendid
and wonderful Gothic architecture, but, like old St.
Paul's, all these magnificent remains of the art, the
science, the invention, the taste, the splendour, and the
piety of our ancestors, would probably have been ere
this converted into stone quarries, or have become heaps
of undistinguishable ruins.

The falls of Moness, near Aberfeldie, stand, very pro-
perly, in the list ofsights to be seen, like those of the Bruar,
and that of the Braan. Those Avho die of raptures at the for-
mer, and to whom a waterfall is simply the falling of water,
will be delighted equally, at the three cascades of Moness,
It is equally easy to know those to whom the upper fall will
be the finest, and also the chosen few who will turn alike
from that and from the lowest, to pass half a day at the


intermediate one. I do not pretend to have seen every
cascade in Scotland, but 1 have seen the far greater num-
ber, all that any other two-legged animal ever saw, and
many more than were ever seen, or possibly ever will be,
by one person. And thus, erecting myself, as travelled
gentlemen commonly do, into a judge from whom there
cannot be any appeal, I pronounce and decide that Moness
is the most beautiful cascade in Scotland ; just as I have
asserted the same elsewhere, of Tumel. and Fyers, and
Urrard. So that there are four firsts. And that too may
very well be ; since they are all as different from each
other, as are the views from Stirling Castle, Loch Coruisk,
Ailsa, and Castle Campbell ; each of which is, in the
same manner, first, each in its several way. If Fyers is
characterized by the depth, the magnitude, the style, and
the ornament of its magnificent abyss, Tumel depends
chiefly on the bulk and the beauty of its falling water,
and on a landscape Avhich is both romantic and appro-
priate. Urrard can no more be compared with these than
the Choragic monument of Lysicrates with the Parthenon
and the Coliseum. While it is, comparatively, a toy, it
owes something, like Tumel, to the beauty of the water,
which falls in a similar form and proportion ; but more,
like Fyers, to the beautiful disposition and ornament of
the including chasm. Moness is still more a toy; but it
is the miniature of a great style: the cascade and the
chasm alike might belong to Fyers, and it is sometimes
difficult to imagine that we are not contemplating an
object of overpowering dimensions through an inverted

The water at Moness is a narrow stream, but it has
great beauty in itself, from the intricate manner in which
it falls ; while it is always sufficient, even when most
scanty, to give to the landscape that which is essen-


tial ; life ; and, in every state, it answers that purpose,
without gaining much when unusually full. This is
the principle, after all, M'hich forms the real attraction,
the soul, I may truly say, of cascade scenery; although
the cause of its peculiar interest seems to be seldom
understood. I do not mean by this, the bustle and the
noise, the whiteness and the spray and the roaring, which
are the ordinary sources of attraction to the vulgar. These
form a separate character, and belong to a far different
shade of feeling, to surprise, or wonder, or fear. It is a
more delicate principle of life to which I allude, which
may exist almost without foam and Avithout sound, Avith
little perceptible motion, and without producing either
surprise or amazement. It is a principle which seems to
diffuse its soul through all the sun'ounding scenery, to
animate every stone, and bush, and flower, to pervade
them all with a community of feeling, and to give them
a joint and living interest in the scene. We use the tenn
animation on physical subjects every day, without being
always conscious of its meaning or of its value. But
animation, which fonns the essence of the cascade, is also
the essence, if in a far less degree, of much more in land-
scape than we are accustomed to reflect on. Nor is its
operation obscure: since, of physical beauty, it is uni-
versally true, that it acts chiefly as it affects our moral
feelings, though few are used to trace that connection. It
is the presence of a living principle which confers on the
flat, objectless, vacant ocean, a perpetual charm, which
renders the clouds and the sky a picture which we are
never weary of contemplating : it is this which forms the
attraction of the lake, the river, and the tree ; it is its
absence which chills us where these are wanting, and
which makes us search for with avidity, and dwell with
interest, on even the lowliest hut or the merest ruin that


seems to speak of its existence. Even the rushing of the
mountain breeze over the bare and barren surface of the
hill, and the hissing of the storm against the naked and
dreary precipice, give them an interest before unknown,
as if they, like ourselves, were conscious of the gale. It
is this delicate and evanescent property of the cascade,
which renders that class of landscape unfitted for paint-
ing. It is not that, in the picture, Ave listen for the noise,
or desire to see the motion ; for, even in nature, we can
admire and enjoy the waterfall, when the sound is inaudi-
ble, and the motion is scarcely perceptible. But the soul
which animated it is wanting, and its charm is gone.

The symmetry of the cavity at the cascade of Moness,
and the remoteness of the water, form its chief distinc-
tions. The fall is seen, scarcely as if it was a natural
object, but rather like an optical illusion : as something-
vacillating between art and nature, from which, as I
have often had occasion to remark, so much, and so pe-
culiar an effect is produced in landscape. While the
elegant form of this deep hollow cannot be exceeded in
beauty, its ornaments of rocks, and stones, and trees, and
bushes, and ferns, and wild flowers, are all disposed, as
if by the hand of exquisite taste, but with all the inimi-
table grace and ease of nature. The rays of the sun do
not penetrate it, but every object is illuminated by a
general subdued light, and by the reflections proceed-
ing from the water, and reverberated in succession from
rock to rock. Under these lights, whose value are well
known to artists, are seen all the rich browns of the
dripping stones, the deep black chasms and fissures, the
broad grey faces of the rocks, the brilliant golden mosses
that cushion every projection, and the light airy green
of the ferns, and of the tender foliage of a thousand
shrubs, feathering from above; while, aloft, the trees


throw their branches across, tinging with green the trans-
mitted light, and adding to that general effect of tran-
quillity and peace, which distinguishes this cascade from
all others. Here also is experienced, very peculiarly,
that effect of harmony of colouring and of artifice united,
which so often occurs in cascades of this character, and
which seems to have almost brought them already under
the hands of the painter. It is a compound effect, inter-
mediate between the artificial colouring of landscape, and
that which is produced by the camera obscura. While
the subdued tones of reflected light cause it to resemble
that of the latter, the watery vapour of the fall diffusing
itself over the objects, generates that atmospheric colour-
ing* Avhich, in painting, is too often a conventional arti=
fice, and which is the true source of the harmony of
colouring peculiar to these cascades. It is particularly
remarkable in this one, from the form and space of the
cavity, and it is one of the great causes of its effect :
producing an appearance of distance in the nearer objects,
and thus, while it gives unity to the scene, conferring on
it imaginary dimensions, and an air of greatness and mag-
nitude which its measurements would not justify.

But it must not be supposed that all the beauties of
Aberfeldie are limited to the falls of Moness. If the
tour books have forgotten that this is one of the finest
situations on the Tay for landscape scenery, it will
justify my hostility to them for their neglect; a hos-
tility which seems likely to remain. The chief of
these scenes will be found at different points on the de-
clivity of the very hill which leads to the cascades ; and
they consist chiefly of views looking across towards
Castle Menzies. It is a species of vale scenery, yet ut-
terly distinct from all else which is found in Strath Tay.
It is closer, if I may use such a term, and presents middle


grounds of greater space and importance; while the dis-
tances do not bear the same undue proportion which,
along the greatest portion of this valley, renders its land-
scapes unfit for painting. The rocky hill which rises
above Castle Menzies, forms a striking object, sufficiently
near to the eye ; and all the hill boundary is equally
grand. The richness and variety of the middle and fore-
grounds, could not well be exceeded ; and the bridge of
the Tay forms an object in the flatter grounds, which is
alike romantic and characteristic. But I must not enter
into these endless details.

I suppose it is very well known by whom this bridge
was designed ; but it is a piece of knowledge which I have
not acquired. The fame belongs to Marshal Wade, of
course; and with the same justice that the botanist, and
an endle*is race besides, found their reputation on works,
the whole merit of which belongs to artists, whose names,
if they are known, are never mentioned. It is Mr. Some-
body's magnificent Opusculum on the Genus Pinus, and
so on, not Mr. Bauer's : and the gentleman author
who, in a similar way, produces a splendid volume of
ancient architecture, or of tygers or butterflies, and who
speaks of" my draughtsman," forgets, as do the public,
that, but for his draughtsman, he might as well have re-
posed in peace. Here we have the " solertia" of Marshal
Wade ; and the " auspices" of George the second, — good
man, — who knew as much about art as one of his own drum-
majors. I know not that Tay bridge has a very pure
claim to originality; because the hint of the obelisk^,
from which it derives its chief character, seems to have
been borrowed from the bridge at Stirling. But the
artist, be he who he may, has improved the idea so much,
as to deserve even more praise than the mere invention
could have conferred ; while, for aught I know, even


Stirling- may be but the copy of something unknown to
me. Whether that be so or not, the obelisks on Stirling
bridge would not be missed were they removed ; while,
here, they form an essential part of the architecture. To
imagine four obelisks placed on the parapet of a bridge,
is to imagine a heterogeneous incongruity ; ornaments
irrelevant to the general form of such a structure, and a
fantastical effect. But the artist has avoided all this, by
the congTuity of the general design, and by the admirable
proportions which are preserved throughout, not only in,
the exterior lines of the bridge, but in the relative di-
mensions and disposition of the arches. While, from
each end, the parapets sweep up in a graceful curve to
the bases of these obelisks, the eye is conducted to their
summits, as to the natural and necessary termination ; the
judicious place which they occupy, and the justness of
their distances and proportions, producing also a pyra-
midal general composition, which is as graceful as it is
free of affectation. Nothing can well be imagined more
picturesque as a landscape object, than Tay bridge ;
while it is no less unexpected, and even romantic ; lead-
ing the imagination to an age, and to scenes, which, we
feel, are not our own, but which we know not where to
fix. As a merely architectural object, it is no less pic-

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 5 of 37)