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 8 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 8 of 37)
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plicity in their forms and disposition which I have al-
ready pointed out as peculiar to this place. It is an
additional source of variety in these landscapes, that, in
many parts, the bottom of the valley is exceedingly
irregular ; being marked with deep and frequent undu-
lations of the ground, or with transverse hills and de-
pressions, instead of that continuous level so common in
most glens and straths in the Highlands. If the long
and high terraces which mark the former levels of the
river, add nothing to the beauty of the scenery, they are
at least interesting objects ; from their great continuity
and distinctness, and from their enabling us to trace,
with perhaps more ease than in any other spot, the great
series of changes which the bottom of this valley has

For some space before reaching Meggarnie, there is
no longer any distinct landscape, but the valley still
continues pleasing, though wild, and wooded as far as
the domain of this remote and strangely selected country-
seat ; after which all beauty ceases, and the whole is a
rude mountain glen, with little decision of feature, even
to the source of the river. From this point, there is a
road over the ridge of Ben Lawers to Killin, forming a
communicating branch of the military roads ; wild and
arduous, and if without picturesque beauty, not without
interest. On the further declivity, however, as it de-
scends on Loch Tay, it affords some magnificent views
of the upper part of this lake, and of Killin: superior
indeed to those which are obtained, further south, from
the immediate ascent of Ben Lawers. I have rarely met
with such effects among the clouds of these mountainous


regions, as I here experienced the last time 1 crossed
it : effects, the occasional splendour of which is well
known to those who have had similar opportunities. There
was a dense mist with rain, unusually dense and dark,
and it was my chance to reach the rude obelisk which
marks the summit, at the very middle of an eclipse of the
sun. Had it been a total one, the darkness could scarcely
have been greater than it was here. I was alone on this
wild ridge, all, of the few objects which I could discern,
appeared vast and formless, shadowy, and vague, and
uncertain ; and all was fearfully silent, except the whist-
ling of the wind, which seemed to sound mysteriously
among the whirling and entangling clouds. The obelisk
itself, dimly seen among the gray mists by the doubt-
ful light, appeared a huge spectre ; the genius of the
night and the storm. I could not help pausing to consi-
der this strange chaos of half-embodied vacancy, an abyss
of darkness and mist and doubt and silence, a day of
night more solemn than the night itself, a darkness more
tremendous than the utmost gloom of midnight. We have
all felt the force of Milton's expression ; but there was
here more than the merely visible forms of darkness,
more than that conjectural and appalling gloom which
we meet in the deep cavern, or in the twilight wood,
or on the stormy and midnight sea shore, displaying the
doubtful shapes of things unknown. As the mists and
the showers drove along before the gale, now rising up
as from an unknown abyss below, and then descending
as from above, at one moment every object vanished,
and all was one blank ; all empty, around, above, below.
Again as they passed away, huge and shadowy forms
seemed to appear for an instant, and, in a moment again,
all was gone ; adding, by the semblance of motion, to


the ghostly and fearful images that seemed flitting and
floating among the dark twisting vapours, and whose
voices almost seemed to be sounding hollow in the

Had I not been alone, half the effect of this scene,
event I should rather call it, would have been lost. Had
I not known, or supposed, whither the road was con-
ducting me, and believed that I might trust myself to it,
I might have added anxiety or fear, and have related or
feigned, like Will Marvel, a tale of terrors. Had I
not recollected the eclipse, I might have chosen to ima-
gine that the milleniura was at hand ; and, as it is, I
have forfeited a noble opportunity of" splendid falsehood,"
of surprising the audience with the history of my he-
roism. But the dark moon passed off" as I descended
the mountain ; and as I attained the edge of the cloud, a
wild and strange vision of Loch Tay appeared at inter-
vals among the rolling and curling mists, gleaming
bright in the sun. Higher and higher the curtain rose,
becoming silvery and bright as its lower edge still
showed, faintly glittering through its tender vapour, the
rich vale of Killin, appearing itself to move, like a ma-
gical illusion ; a fairy landscape in the clouds. Closing
again, the whole gay vision vanished ; till, at length,
rolling off" on all hands in huge curling folds, I thought
of Harlequin and Columbine, and all my poetical ideas
were dissipated. They would have been effectually dis-
sipated at any rate, when I found myself dripping and
shivering on the edge of the long ravine which leads
down the mountain side.

Like the whirligig which returns to your hand when
it has got to the utmost length of its chain, I must come
back to Kenmore, to take thence a new flight : " forcing
whole regions, in despite of geography, to change their


site." But I know not that I can say augbt of Kenmore
and Taymouth which has not been said by others, and
which was never said by any one worse than by Burns ;
who, whenever he attempted to describe natural scenery
unconnected with his own peculiar moral views and si-
tuations, sank, the lowest of the low. But the verses on
Taymouth are quoted as often as the cotter's Saturday
night ; and thus do the multitude discriminate what they
imagine they admire. There is a charm at first sight, and
an air of importance at the same time, about this little
village, as if it was the capital of a region and the sea
port of a mountain land, which cannot fail to be soon dis-
sipated. But its real merits remain : space, order, neat-
ness, and a situation not easily paralleled, in a moun-
tainous country, for commodiousness and beauty. In
England, such a village might have become a large
town: the resort of the semi-opulent, unemployed, and
retired people in which that country abounds, Scotland
is far differently situated in this respect ; while the in-
crease of Kenmore is naturally checked by the monopo-
lizing property which surrounds it, and by its long-
established rival, Aberfeldie. We must grieve here over
the wretched architectural pretensions of its tower ;
which, without an additional foot of stone, might have
been rendered as beautiful as it is now paltry. But the
dsemon of bad taste seems to have taken the whole sur-
rounding spot under his especial protection: marring
what it could not destroy. The architect of Inverara
probably supposed that he had performed a mighty act
when he placed a casino, I ought to say, casino upon casi-
no, on the top of a baronial Gothic keep : but he of Tay-
mouth, resolved to outwit him, has surmounted his castle
with a church. If the effect was good, the incongruity
might be pardoned ; but the illegitimate produce is, at


the same time, ponderous and airy, fantastical and dull :
" a house which this, of cards might build."

It is a remarkable circumstance about Taymouth, that
although it appears to possess all the elements of land-
scape, in its bright lake, its noble river, its rich valley,
its woods, and its lofty hills, it affords no subject for
painting". It wants variety also : since, once seen, it is
all seen. It must nevertheless be allowed the praise of
grandeur and beauty ; yet the former is diminished, as
the latter is materially impaired, by the artificial man-
ner in which the grounds have been laid out and the
hills planted. It is plain that it is the base offspring of
a capability-man ; who, unable to comprehend the cha-
racter of the scene, has done all he could to reduce it, by
the clump and the cabbage line, to the standard receipt
for beauty. Whether deformed by Brown or not, it is of
his school. The hills are dotted and spotted with dry and
formal lumps of trees, and the more extensive planta-
tions are all similarly bounded bylines of iron; filling
the whole so completely, as to reduce it all to the ap-
pearance of artifice and stiffness, and utterly marring its
natural freedom and grandeur of character. It is like
Lude, but on a far other scale ; so that while this is but
a patch in a wide and splendid natural landscape, too
small to cause much evil, and, in some respects, even
advantageous, every thing at Taymouth, hills, water,
valley, and even the sky, cut by ignoble regiments and
platoons, is an artificial and drilled scene that seems to
have been modelled in a toyshop and transplanted hither
by a chain and a theodolite.

The system of Brown has been defended, because, as
it is said, his conceptions were correct and in good taste,
and that the dryness and artifice of the produce were to
be remedied by time. Admitting that time might do



much in removing- the immediate formality, it never yet
has given, and never will, give ease and grace to his plans;
nor can it ever destroy the appearance of art, and of an
ugly art. It is not to art, as such, that we ought to
object in these cases ; for where man is the obvious mas-
ter, where he is seeking for convenience and comfort as
well as for beauty, he is justified in using it. There is
also a congruity in the artificial arrangement of our do-
mestic landscape, because it is related to our architec-
ture. It is proper that the domain should form a portion
of that artifice which determines the form and position
of the house ; and particularly where that domain is im-
mediately subservient to our comforts and our uses.
That portion, however, is limited to certain bounds ; and
there art may appear with propriety, and ought to appear.
But it may be magnificent or graceful art, and it ad-
mits of propriety and congruity ; of adaptation to the
nature without, as to the architecture within. It is thus
that the noble stretch of the avenue is justified; and
there are few avenues finer than the well-known lime-
tree avenue of Taymouth : it is thus that we justify the
shaved lawn, the trimmed walks, and even the archi-
tectural garden, which, modern fashion, always in ex-
tremes, has abolished. But in the system to which I am
here objecting, the art offends, because it is an attempt
to imitate nature, and because it is a failure. It professes
one thing and has performed another. As nature, it would
be ugly, because it is stiff and graceless ; and, as art, it is
ugly, because it is careless and clumsy art. It is a kind
of enormous topiary work. It has no relation or resem-
blance to natural landscape ; and it has not the decision
or the grandeur which evince the conceptions of man and
prove his power over nature. Such, not to dwell on this
subject, are the leading faults of this system. But it is


even a greater one, that it holds no regard to previous
nature. It is an universal receipt which reduces every
thing to one face and aspect. It is in vain, after this, to
talk of the genius of its inventor. All scenes, the vi^ide
plain, the spacious vale, the narrow valley, the undulat-
ing hills, and the lofty mountain, become the same land-
scape. There is no invention : and it is evident that its
promulgator never could have formed the slightest con-
ception of the nature of that landscape which he pre-
tended to produce or to embellish. The receipt is infal-
lible : it is universal and invariable, and may be applied
by any one. It is said that Brown was a gardener. That
may be : but we might have imagined him a cook ; for
his hors d'oeuvres and entries resemble fully as much a
well ordered table as they do the sausages and patty pans
of a flower garden. The belted and clumped park is, at
best, but a huge flower garden ; and the obvious imita-
tion is one source of its meanness, though we do not al-
ways reflect on the cause.

If we could be surprised at any thing of this kind,
knowing how fashion prevails over taste, how rare the
latter quality is, and how mankind follows him who
makes bold and high pretensions, we should be surprised
at the wide adoption and long prevalence of this system,
and at the consequent enormous expense which has been
bestowed on these imaginary improvements. There is
much, even yet, to excite our wonder, when we see the
facility with which the opulent still yield up their purses
and their lands to the guidance of any new and upstart
pretender to taste in these matters. It is impossible that
persons of such narrow views and mechanical habits,
can succeed in an undertaking which requires, alike,
much taste and much education. It is not too much to
say that it is the highest department of landscape paint-

H 2


ing; implying the most perfect and universal intimacy
with Nature under every one of her possible forms, and
an acquaintance with the general rules and practical
principles of art, no less perfect.

I do not mean to follow a party which exclaims about
the picturesque, which cants about roughness and wild-
ness, and which would make every scene the subject of
a painting. This is a mistaken extreme, were the prac-
tice possible, which it is not. The landscape gardener,
using that term in its best sense, has no such power over
his materials and his tools as the painter. Neither can
he hope, nor ought he to desire, to convert the ground
which he has undertaken, into a picture or a series of
pictures. It is his business to study the natural character
and tendency of the peculiar beauties or circumstances
with which he has to deal ; to follow and embellish na-
ture where he can, not to force her to conform to a sys-
tem. Thus he will ensure alike, congruity and variety.
An improver of this class will not attempt to reduce the
mountain and the plain, the wide sweeping hills and the
narrow valley, to the same aspect. He will study the
native physiognomy of the lake, the river, the glen, or
the acclivity ; and he will study also the peculiar fea-
tures of each river, and of every hill or plain that may
come under his command. To these he will apply his
plantations, (for he has little else to work with) as the
principles of beauty, and congruity, and effect, in nature
and in art, direct; and from these also he will remove
what may interfere with the character or the composition
of the scenes which he may have the means of thus ex-
tricating and improving.

Nor can all this be done as it ought, except by him
who is familiar with nature in all her endless forms,
whose eye is ever open to seize the most delicate and


evanescent beauties, who can discover where a peculiar
feature of grace is suffocated or where it is imperfect,
who can see where nature tends, what she might have
done, and what obstructions a variety of accidents, in
defect or in excess, or in casual misarrangement, has
thrown in the >vay of her attempts. It is he whose eye
is ever open to natural landscape, who has studied it as
a painter does, and as none but a painter can do, who is
the true landscape gardener ; and it is thus, but thus
only, that this occupation belongs exclusively to the
landscape painter, and can, as a trade, properly belong
to no one else. It is among the Turners, and the Wards,
and the Martins, that we should choose our professional
landscape gardeners ; not among the Loudons and the
Reptons. These are not the architects of landscape ; they
are the stone-masons of this branch of art. It is he too,
who to the intimate and wide study of nature has added
an acquaintance equally intimate with the works of
painters, who can alone extricate, from wild nature, the
several characters under which she often conceals, rather
than displays, her forms and her beauties. With the
eye of Claude, he sees the landscape that Salvator might
have overlooked , and thus too he discovers, by the aid
of Hobbima and Ruysdael, what, if his studies had been
limited to Wilson, he might have passed unnoticed.
But, more than this, the landscape painter is not called
on to do; and more than this, the judicious improver will
never attempt. To endeavour to manufacture landscapes
fitted for painting, is to exceed the legitimate bounds of
improvement, and to become a pedant instead of an im-
prover. To such I would as little commit power as to
the capability-man.

It is another advantage which the judicious landscape
painter possesses over the common improver, that his


alterations contemplate equally the smaller and the
greater features. He is accustomed to trace the separate
beauties required for every point of his landscape; he
sees where all the elements with which he has been
accustomed to operate are true, and where they are false,
where they are marked by grace and where by deformity,
where and how they may be modified or suppressed,
brought to light or excluded, or improved by addition
or retrenchment. Every bank, and stone, and tree, has
been to him a study, as much as the general composition,
the colouring, and the greater features ; and from all
these he will produce beauty, of which the system-mon-
ger has no conception. And it is in the smaller parts
that such alterations are most easily made ; in those very
parts which do not enter into the contemplation of the
common capability-man. Our powers over the general
landscape are very limited ; but we can modify the sepa-
rate portions to beauty, with little comparative labour
and expense. To these we look, as to the middle
grounds and foregrounds of the painted landscape ; and
thus, often, by means of a single tree planted or removed,
a few bushes added to conceal a defect, or a few cut
down to display a beauty, or by trivial removals of earth
from a river bank, or of similar additions to change a
line or a form, the artist of taste will produce, and often
at a trivial expense, that which the trading improver is
unable to see, or, possibly, destroys, with much labour
and much money.

I have said elsewhere, when on the subject of archi-
tecture, that it is one of the great merits of taste to be an
economical quality. Nor can this one of its properties be
any where more successfully demonstrated than in land-
scape gardening. When we contemplate the enormous
sums of money that have been lavished in raising or


lowering ground, in forming canals and lakes, and in
injudicious plantations, and when we see what the effects
are; and when we reflect, on the other hand, with what
slender efforts beauty might often have been obtained in
judicious hands, we may fairly conclude that something
more than money is required in this line of art, and that
extravagance and failure are generally allied. The an-
cient painter who could not make his Venus beautiful,
made her fine. I have remarked elsewhere, that the art
of seeing landscape in nature is limited to few, and is the
result of study and education. Had it been more gene-
rally difl'used, there would have scarcely been such a
trade as an improver of grounds, or it would have fallen
into far other hands. We should not then have seen
throughout the country, those artificial grounds which
we now see ; nor is there now any reason why he who
has a taste for nature, and who has cultivated it by the
study of art, should not be his own improver, and thus
rescue alike his lands and his purse from the fangs of an
ignorant class of pretenders. It is a cowardly and an
indolent spirit that suffers taste to become a trade, that
crouches to the bold assertions and pretension of those
who are to profit by this timidity. This is a branch of
the commercial system, and of the system of division of
labour, which tends to reduce every man to a twister of
pin's heads; which divides, in every thing, as in watch-
making and cotton-spinning, the whole community into
the separate and unthinking parts of one great machine;
a division under which the higher faculties of the mind
must vanish, whatever dexterity may be acquired by the
fingers. Were I a possessor of lands, which I shall never
be, I should as soon consent to place ray wife as my
estate under the direction of a capability-man.

Yet a word on the garden, before we part with this sub-


ject. In the ancienl. system, the garden formed an inte-
g^rant part of the house; but the honours of " the flower
and the lefe" are no more. It is not now the resort of the
proprietors, the scene of the morning- airing, the shelter
from the blaze of noon, and the seat of the evening fes-
tivity, of the rural supper, the promenade, or the con-
versation. Because the term gardening has changed its
meaning, the garden has been abolished, or is consigned
to the gardener and his myrmidons, the nursery of cab-
bages and leeks. It was not sufficient to send back the
leaden host of Heathen Gods to the foundery, to break
the sheers, and once more to suffer the topiary box and
yew to wander back to their native freedom ; but all has
been swept away alike, fountain and terrace, and flow-
ery walk, and shaded arbour, and alley green. All is
vanished together ; and the house is now a cold dry
specimen of architecture, placed on a cold, dry, shaven,
and polished lawn, where not even a daisy is suffered to
raise its head ; resembling the elevation in the builder's
office; a mushroom that seems to have sprung up, like
an exhalation, we know not why or whence. If we wish
for a sheltered or a shrubbery walk, we must seek it
far away amidst the damps and dews, or under a burning
sun. If there is a flower garden, it must be attained
with so much labour, that, like the books of our upper
shelves, we never become intimate with it. It is con-
nected with nothing, and it is left to the taste of a nur-
seryman, or of his pupils, to choose, and form, and direct.
It is as if we had entered into a conspiracy against our
own comforts. Nor is it against our comforts only, but
against our interests. The fruit and the vegetable gar-
den are removed from our sight and reach, the gardener
looks on our visit with as jealous an eye as the coach-
man or cook if we trespass on their departments ; and


that, over which we have no check of acquaintance, and
which we seldom see, finds its way to a distant market
instead of to our own tables.

It is a new refinement in elegance to have discovered
that the garden is a disgusting or an ugly object; but it
is the interest of the gardener that it should be so, as it
is for his interest also that it should be remote from the
house. It was not always thus ; nor need it be so now.
Even the hot-bed department is not necessarily disagree-
able; nor is there any difiiculty in concealing the very
little in a garden, which is confused, or which cannot be
kept neat. There is scarcely a plant, or a shrub, or a
tree, cultivated for use, which has not some beauty ; and
there are many which are peculiarly beautiful in them-
selves. In many also, there are two seasons of beauty ;
the period of the flower and that of the fruit; when our
ornamental shrubs and trees and flowers have but one.
The raspberry and the currant, the apple and the pear,
have their spring and their summer and their autumn ;
of sweetness and ornament, of promise and performance:
the snow white of the strawberry is succeeded by its bril-
liant scarlet, the Jerusalem artichoke is the rival of the
sunflower, and the bean emulates in its odour the produce
of the sweetest flower garden. We have variety of form
and colour, of plants and shrubs and trees, in our kitchen
and fruit gardens ; and what more is essential to beauty ?
It never can take from their ornament, that they are use-
ful ; and it is a miserable affectation which pretends to
despise them, because we choose to call them onions and
cabbages and gooseberries, and to attach false notions of
vulgarity to the term kitchen garden. If it is injudi-
ciously disposed for beauty, if formality and nakedness
are studied in the arrangements, these are neither neces-
sary nor useful. We are limited to no such dispositions,


and may intermix and unite the several parts, flowers,
plants, shrubs, and trees, so as to produce the same orna-
ment as from our flower gardens and shrubberies. We
may even make them as irregular and picturesque as

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 8 of 37)