To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart. of Jesus college, Oxon.
I am now little short of the Ultima Thule, if this appellation properly belongs to the Orkneys or Hebrides. These last are now lying before me, to the amount of some hundreds, scattered up and down the Deucalidonian sea, affording the most picturesque and romantic prospect I ever beheld—I write this letter in a gentleman’s house, near the town of Inverary which may be deemed the capital of the West Highlands, famous for nothing so much as for the stately castle begun, and actually covered in by the late duke of Argyle, at a prodigious expence—Whether it will ever be completely finished is a question.—
But, to take things in order—We left Edinburgh ten days ago; and the further North we proceed, we find Mrs Tabitha the less manageable; so that her inclinations are not of the nature of the loadstone; they point not towards the pole. What made her leave Edinburgh with reluctance at last, if we may believe her own assertions, was a dispute which she left unfinished with Mr Moffat, touching the eternity of hell torments. That gentleman, as he advanced in years, began to be sceptical on this head, till, at length, he declared open war against the common acceptation of the word eternal. He is now persuaded, that eternal signifies no more than an indefinite number of years; and that the most enormous sinner may be quit for nine millions, nine hundred thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine years of hell-fire; which term or period, as he very well observes, forms but an inconsiderable drop, as it were, in the ocean of eternity—For this mitigation he contends, as a system agreeable to the ideas of goodness and mercy, which we annex to the supreme Being—Our aunt seemed willing to adopt this doctrine in favour of the wicked; but he hinted that no person whatever was so righteous as to be exempted entirely from punishment in a future state; and that the most pious Christian upon earth might think himself very happy to get off for a fast of seven or eight thousand years in the midst of fire and brimstone. Mrs Tabitha revolted at this dogma, which filled her at once with horror and indignation—She had recourse to the opinion of Humphry Clinker, who roundly declared it was the popish doctrine of purgatory, and quoted scripture in defence of the fire everlasting, prepared for the devil and his angels—The reverend master Mackcorkendal, and all the theologists and saints of that persuasion were consulted, and some of them had doubts about the matter; which doubts and scruples had begun to infect our aunt, when we took our departure from Edinburgh.
We passed through Linlithgow, where there was an elegant royal palace, which is now gone to decay, as well as the town itself—This too is pretty much the case with Stirling, though it still boasts of a fine old castle in which the kings of Scotland were wont to reside in their minority—But Glasgow is the pride of Scotland, and, indeed, it might very well pass for an elegant and flourishing city in any part of Christendom. There we had the good fortune to be received into the house of Mr Moore, an eminent surgeon, to whom we were recommended by one of our friends at Edinburgh; and, truly, he could not have done us more essential service—Mr Moore is a merry facetious companion, sensible and shrewd, with a considerable fund of humour; and his wife an agreeable woman, well bred, kind, and obliging. Kindness, which I take to be the essence of good-nature and humanity, is the distinguishing characteristic of the Scotch ladies in their own country—Our landlord shewed us every thing, and introduced us to all the world at Glasgow; where, through his recommendation, we were complimented with the freedom of the town. Considering the trade and opulence of this place, it cannot but abound with gaiety and diversions. Here is a great number of young fellows that rival the youth of the capital in spirit and expence; and I was soon convinced, that all the female beauties of Scotland were not assembled at the hunters ball in Edinburgh—The town of Glasgow flourishes in learning as well as in commerce—Here is an university, with professors in all the different branches of science, liberally endowed, and judiciously chosen—It was vacation time when I passed, so that I could not entirely satisfy my curiosity; but their mode of education is certainly preferable to ours in some respects. The students are not left to the private instruction of tutors; but taught in public schools or classes, each science by its particular professor or regent.
My uncle is in raptures with Glasgow—He not only visited all the manufactures of the place, but made excursions all round to Hamilton, Paisley, Renfrew, and every other place within a dozen miles, where there was any thing remarkable to be seen in art or nature. I believe the exercise, occasioned by those jaunts, was of service to my sister Liddy, whose appetite and spirits begin to revive—Mrs Tabitha displayed her attractions as usual, and actually believed she had entangled one Mr Maclellan, a rich inkle-manufacturer, in her snares; but when matters came to an explanation, it appeared that his attachment was altogether spiritual, founded upon an intercourse of devotion, at the meeting of Mr John Wesley; who, in the course of his evangelical mission, had come hither in person—At length, we set out for the banks of Lough-Lomond, passing through the little borough of Dumbarton, or (as my uncle will have it) Dunbritton, where there is a castle, more curious than any thing of the kind I had ever seen. It is honoured with a particular description by the elegant Buchanan, as an arx inexpugnabilis, and, indeed, it must have been impregnable by the antient manner of besieging. It is a rock of considerable extent, rising with a double top, in an angle formed by the confluence of two rivers, the Clyde and the Leven; perpendicular and inaccessible on all sides, except in one place where the entrance is fortified; and there is no rising ground in the neighbourhood from whence it could be damaged by any kind of battery.
From Dumbarton, the West Highlands appear in the form of huge, dusky mountains, piled one over another; but this prospect is not at all surprising to a native of Glamorgan—We have fixed our headquarters at Cameron, a very neat country-house belonging to commissary Smollet, where we found every sort of accommodation we could desire—It is situated like a Druid’s temple, in a grove of oak, close by the side of Lough-Lomond, which is a surprising body of pure transparent water, unfathomably deep in many places, six or seven miles broad, four and twenty miles in length, displaying above twenty green islands, covered with wood; some of them cultivated for corn, and many of them stocked with red deer—They belong to different gentlemen, whose seats are scattered along the banks of the lake, which are agreeably romantic beyond all conception. My uncle and I have left the women at Cameron, as Mrs Tabitha would by no means trust herself again upon the water, and to come hither it was necessary to cross a small inlet of the sea, in an open ferry-boat—This country appears more and more wild and savage the further we advance; and the People are as different from the Low-land Scots, in their looks, garb, and language, as the mountaineers of Brecknock are from the inhabitants of Herefordshire.
When the Lowlanders want to drink a chearupping-cup, they go to the public house, called the Change-house, and call for a chopine of two-penny, which is a thin, yeasty beverage, made of malt; not quite so strong as the table-beer of England,—This is brought in a pewter stoop, shaped like a skittle, from whence it is emptied into a quaff; that is, a curious cup made of different pieces of wood, such as box and ebony, cut into little staves, joined alternately, and secured with delicate hoops, having two cars or handles—It holds about a gill, is sometimes tipt round the mouth with silver, and has a plate of the same metal at bottom, with the landlord’s cypher engraved.—The Highlanders, on the contrary, despise this liquor, and regale themselves with whisky; a malt spirit, as strong as geneva, which they swallow in great quantities, without any signs of inebriation. They are used to it from the cradle, and find it an excellent preservative against the winter cold, which must be extreme on these mountains—I am told that it is given with great success to infants, as a cordial in the confluent smallpox, when the eruption seems to flag, and the symptoms grow unfavourable—The Highlanders are used to eat much more animal food than falls to the share of their neighbours in the Low-country—They delight in hunting; have plenty of deer and other game, with a great number of sheep, goats, and black-cattle running wild, which they scruple not to kill as vension, without being much at pains to ascertain the property.
Inverary is but a poor town, though it stands immediately under the protection of the duke of Argyle, who is a mighty prince in this part of Scotland. The peasants live in wretched cabins, and seem very poor; but the gentlemen are tolerably well lodged, and so loving to strangers, that a man runs some risque of his life from their hospitality—It must be observed that the poor Highlanders are now seen to disadvantage. They have been not only disarmed by act of parliament, but also deprived of their ancient garb, which was both graceful and convenient; and what is a greater hardship still, they are compelled to wear breeches; a restraint which they cannot bear with any degree of patience: indeed, the majority wear them, not in the proper place, but on poles or long staves over their shoulders—They are even debarred the use of their striped stuff called Tartane, which was their own manufacture, prized by them above all the velvets, brocades, and tissues of Europe and Asia. They now lounge along in loose great coats, of coarse russet, equally mean and cumbersome, and betray manifest marks of dejection—Certain it is, the government could not have taken a more effectual method to break their national spirit.
We have had princely sport in hunting the stag on these mountains. These are the lonely hills of Morven, where Fingal and his heroes enjoyed the same pastime; I feel an enthusiastic pleasure when I survey the brown heath that Ossian wont to tread; and hear the wind whistle through the bending grass—When I enter our landlord’s hall, I look for the suspended harp of that divine bard, and listen in hopes of hearing the aerial sound of his respected spirit—The poems of Ossian are in every mouth—A famous antiquarian of this country, the laird of Macfarlane, at whose house we dined a few days ago, can repeat them all in the original Gallick, which has a great affinity to the Welch, not only in the general sound, but also in a great number of radical words; and I make no doubt that they are both sprung from the same origin. I was not a little surprised, when asking a Highlander one day, if he knew where we should find any game? he replied, ‘hu niel Sassenagh’, which signifies no English: the very same answer I should have received from a Welchman, and almost in the same words. The Highlanders have no other name for the people of the Low-country, but Sassenagh, or Saxons; a strong presumption, that the Lowland Scots and the English are derived from the same stock—The peasants of these hills strongly resemble those of Wales in their looks, their manners, and habitations; every thing I see, and hear, and feel, seems Welch—The mountains, vales, and streams; the air and climate; the beef, mutton, and game, are all Welch—It must be owned, however, that this people are better Provided than we in some articles—They have plenty of red deer and roebuck, which are fat and delicious at this season of the year. Their sea teems with amazing quantities of the finest fish in the world, and they find means to procure very good claret at a very small expence.
Our landlord is a man of consequence in this part of the country; a cadet from the family of Argyle and hereditary captain of one of his castles—His name, in plain English, is Dougal Campbell; but as there is a great number of the same appellation, they are distinguished (like the Welch) by patronimics; and as I have known an antient Briton called Madoc ap-Morgan ap-Jenkin, ap-Jones, our Highland chief designs himself Dou’l Mac-amish mac-’oul ichian, signifying Dougal, the son of James, the son of Dougal, the son of John. He has travelled in the course of his education, and is disposed to make certain alterations in his domestic oeconomy; but he finds it impossible to abolish the ancient customs of the family; some of which are ludicrous enough—His piper for example, who is an hereditary officer of the household, will not part with the least particle of his privileges. He has a right to wear the kilt, or ancient Highland dress, with the purse, pistol, and durk—a broad yellow ribbon, fixed to the chanter-pipe, is thrown over his shoulder, and trails along the ground, while he performs the function of his minstrelsy; and this, I suppose, is analogous to the pennon or flag which was formerly carried before every knight in battle.—He plays before the laird every Sunday in his way to the kirk, which he circles three times, performing the family march which implies defiance to all the enemies of the clan; and every morning he plays a full hour by the clock, in the great hall, marching backwards and forwards all the time, with a solemn pace, attended by the laird’s kinsmen, who seem much delighted with the music—In this exercise, he indulges them with a variety of pibrochs or airs, suited to the different passions, which he would either excite or assuage.
Mr Campbell himself, who performs very well on the violin, has an invincible antipathy to the sound of the Highland bagpipe, which sings in the nose with a most alarming twang, and, indeed, is quite intolerable to ears of common sensibility, when aggravated by the echo of a vaulted hall—He therefore begged the piper would have some mercy upon him, and dispense with this part of the morning service—A consultation of the clan being held on this occasion, it was unanimously agreed, that the laird’s request could not be granted without a dangerous encroachment upon the customs of the family—The piper declared, he could not give up for a moment the privilege he derived from his ancestors; nor would the laird’s relations forego an entertainment which they valued above all others—There was no remedy; Mr Campbell, being obliged to acquiesce, is fain to stop his ears with cotton; to fortify his head with three or four night-caps and every morning retire into the penetralia of his habitation, in order to avoid this diurnal annoyance. When the music ceases, he produces himself at an open window that looks into the courtyard, which is by this time filled with a crowd of his vassals and dependents, who worship his first appearance, by uncovering their heads, and bowing to the earth with the most humble prostration. As all these people have something to communicate in the way of proposal, complaint, or petition, they wait patiently till the laird comes forth, and, following him in his walks, are favoured each with a short audience in his turn. Two days ago, he dispatched above an hundred different sollicitors, in walking with us to the house of a neighbouring gentleman, where we dined by invitation. Our landlord’s housekeeping is equally rough and hospitable, and savours much of the simplicity of ancient times: the great hall, paved with flat stones, is about forty-five feet by twenty-two, and serves not only for a dining-room, but also for a bedchamber, to gentlemen-dependents and hangers-on of the family. At night, half a dozen occasional beds are ranged on each side along the wall. These are made of fresh heath, pulled up by the roots, and disposed in such a manner as to make a very agreeable couch, where they lie, without any other covering than the plaid—My uncle and I were indulged with separate chambers and down beds which we begged to exchange for a layer of heath; and indeed I never slept so much to my satisfaction. It was not only soft and elastic, but the plant, being in flower, diffused an agreeable fragrance, which is wonderfully refreshing and restorative.
Yesterday we were invited to the funeral of an old lady, the grandmother of a gentleman in this neighbourhood, and found ourselves in the midst of fifty people, who were regaled with a sumptuous feast, accompanied by the music of a dozen pipers. In short, this meeting had all the air of a grand festival; and the guests did such honour to the entertainment, that many of them could not stand when we were reminded of the business on which we had met. The company forthwith taking horse, rode in a very irregular cavalcade to the place of interment, a church, at the distance of two long miles from the castle. On our arrival, however, we found we had committed a small oversight, in leaving the corpse behind; so we were obliged to wheel about, and met the old gentlewoman half way, being carried upon poles by the nearest relations of her family, and attended by the coronach, composed of a multitude of old hags, who tore their hair, beat their breasts, and howled most hideously. At the grave, the orator, or senachie, pronounced the panegyric of the defunct, every period being confirmed by a yell of the coronach. The body was committed to the earth, the pipers playing a pibroch all the time; and all the company standing uncovered. The ceremony was closed with the discharge of pistols; then we returned to the castle, resumed the bottle, and by midnight there was not a sober person in the family, the females excepted. The ’squire and I were, with some difficulty, permitted to retire with our landlord in the evening; but our entertainer was a little chagrined at our retreat; and afterwards seemed to think it a disparagement to his family, that not above a hundred gallons of whisky had been drunk upon such a solemn occasion. This morning we got up by four, to hunt the roebuck, and, in half an hour, found breakfast ready served in the hall. The hunters consisted of Sir George Colquhoun and me, as strangers (my uncle not chusing to be of the party), of the laird in person, the laird’s brother, the laird’s brother’s son, the laird’s sister’s son, the laird’s father’s brother’s son, and all their foster brothers, who are counted parcel of the family: but we were attended by an infinite number of Gaelly’s, or ragged Highlanders without shoes or stockings.
The following articles formed our morning’s repast: one kit of boiled eggs; a second, full of butter; a third full of cream; an entire cheese, made of goat’s milk; a large earthen pot full of honey; the best part of a ham; a cold venison pasty; a bushel of oat meal, made in thin cakes and bannocks, with a small wheaten loaf in the middle for the strangers; a large stone bottle full of whisky, another of brandy, and a kilderkin of ale. There was a ladle chained to the cream kit, with curious wooden bickers to be filled from this reservoir. The spirits were drank out of a silver quaff, and the ale out of hems: great justice was done to the collation by the guest in general; one of them in particular ate above two dozen of hard eggs, with a proportionable quantity of bread, butter, and honey; nor was one drop of liquor left upon the board. Finally, a large roll of tobacco was presented by way of desert, and every individual took a comfortable quid, to prevent the bad effects of the morning air. We had a fine chace over the mountains, after a roebuck, which we killed, and I got home time enough to drink tea with Mrs Campbell and our ’squire. To-morrow we shall set out on our return for Cameron. We propose to cross the Frith of Clyde, and take the towns of Greenock and Port-Glasgow in our way. This circuit being finished, we shall turn our faces to the south, and follow the sun with augmented velocity, in order to enjoy the rest of the autumn in England, where Boreas is not quite so biting as he begins already to be on the tops of these northern hills. But our progress from place to place shall continue to be specified in these detached journals of
Yours always, J. MELFORD ARGYLSHIRE, Sept. 3.