INTO THE HIGHLANDS

Edinburgh, September 9, 1889.–Scotland again, and never more beautiful
than now! The harvest moon is shining upon the grim old castle, and
the bagpipes are playing under my windows to-night. It has been a
lovely day. The train rolled out of King’s Cross, London, at ten this
morning, and it rolled into Waverley, Edinburgh, about seven to-night.
The trip by the Great Northern railway is one of the most interesting
journeys that can be made in England. At first indeed the scenery
is not striking; but even at first you are whirled past spots of
exceptional historic and literary interest,–among them the battlefield
of Barnet, the ancient and glorious abbey of St. Albans, and the old
church and graveyard of Hornsey where Thomas Moore buried his little
daughter Barbara, and where the venerable poet Samuel Rogers sleeps
the last sleep. Soon these are gone, and presently, dashing through a
flat country, you get a clear view of Peterborough cathedral, massive,
dark, and splendid, with its graceful cone-shaped pinnacles, its vast
square central tower, and the three great pointed and recessed arches
that adorn its west front. That church contains the dust of Queen
Catherine, the Spanish wife of Henry the Eighth, who died at Kimbolton
Castle, Huntingdonshire, in 1535; and there, in 1587, the remains of
Mary Stuart were first buried,–resting there a long time before her
son, James the First, conveyed them to Westminster Abbey. Both those
queens were buried by the same gravedigger,–that famous sexton, old
Scarlett, whose portrait is in the cathedral, and who died July 2,
1591, aged ninety-eight.

[Illustration: PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL]

The country is so level that the receding tower of Peterborough remains
for a long time in sight, but soon,–as the train speeds through
pastures of clover and through fields of green and red and yellow
herbage, divided by glimmering hedges and diversified with red-roofed
villages and gray church towers,–the land grows hilly, and long white
roads are visible, stretching away like bands of silver over the lonely
hill-tops. Figures of gleaners are seen, now and then, scattered
through fields whence the harvest has lately been gathered. Sheep are
feeding in the pastures, and cattle are couched under fringes of wood.
The bright emerald of the sod sparkles with the golden yellow of the
colt’s-foot, and sometimes the scarlet waves of the poppy come tumbling
into the plain, like a cataract of fire. Windmills spread their
whirling sails upon the summits round about, and over the nestling
ivy-clad cottages and over the stately trees there are great flights of
rooks. A gray sky broods above, faintly suffused with sunshine,
but there is no glare and no heat, and often the wind is laden with a
fragrance of wildflowers and of hay.

It is noon at Grantham, where there is just time enough to see that
this is a flourishing city of red-brick houses and fine spacious
streets, with a lofty, spired church, and far away eastward a high
line of hills. Historic Newark is presently reached and passed,–a
busy, contented town, smiling through the sunshine and mist, and as
it fades in the distance I remember that we are leaving Lincoln, with
its glorious cathedral, to the southeast, and to the west Newstead
Abbey, Annesley, Southwell, and Hucknall-Torkard,–places memorably
associated with the poet Byron and dear to the heart of every lover
of poetic literature. At Markham the country is exceedingly pretty,
with woods and hills over which multitudes of rooks and starlings are
in full career, dark, rapid, and garrulous. About Bawtry the land is
flat, and flat it continues to be until we have sped a considerable way
beyond York. But in the meantime we flash through opulent Doncaster,
famed for manufactories and for horse-races, rosy and active amid the
bright green fields. There are not many trees in this region, and as
we draw near Selby,–a large red-brick city, upon the banks of a broad
river,–its massive old church tower looms conspicuous under smoky
skies. In the outskirts of this town there are cosy houses clad with
ivy, in which the pilgrim might well be pleased to linger. But there
is no pause, and in a little while magnificent York bursts upon the
view, stately and glorious, under a black sky that is full of driving
clouds. The minster stands out like a mountain, and the giant towers
rear themselves in solemn majesty,–the grandest piece of church
architecture in England! The brimming Ouse shines as if it were a
stream of liquid ebony. The meadows around the city glow like living
emeralds, while the harvest-fields are stored and teeming with stacks
of golden grain. Great flights of startled doves people the air,–as
white as snow under the sable fleeces of the driving storm. I had seen
York under different guises, but never before under a sky at once so
sombre and so romantic.

We bear toward Thirsk now, leaving behind us, westward of
our track, old Ripon, in the distance, memorable for many
associations,–especially the contiguity of that loveliest of
ecclesiastical ruins, Fountains Abbey,–and cherished in theatrical
annals as the place of the death and burial of the distinguished
founder of the Jefferson family of actors.[48] Bleak Haworth is not
far distant, and remembrance of it prompts many sympathetic thoughts
of the strange genius of Charlotte Brontë. Darlington is the next
important place, a town of manufacture, conspicuous for its tall,
smoking chimneys and evidently prosperous. This is the land of stone
walls and stone cottages,–the grim precinct of Durham. The country
is cultivated, but rougher than the Midlands, and the essentially
diversified character of this small island is once again impressed
upon your mind. All through this region there are little white-walled
houses with red roofs. At Ferry Hill the scenery changes again and
becomes American,–a mass of rocky gorges and densely wooded ravines.
All trace of storm has vanished by this time, and when, after a brief
interval of eager expectation, the noble towers of Durham cathedral
sweep into the prospect, that superb monument of ancient devotion,
together with all the dark gray shapes of that pictorial city,–so
magnificently placed, in an abrupt precipitous gorge, on both sides
of the brimming Weir,–are seen under a sky of the softest Italian
blue, dappled with white clouds of drifting fleece. Durham is all too
quickly passed,–fading away in a landscape sweetly mellowed by a
faint blue mist. Then stately rural mansions appear, half hidden among
great trees. Wreaths of smoke curl upward from scattered dwellings
all around the circle of the hills. Each distant summit is seen to
be crowned with a tower or a town. A fine castle springs into view
just before Birtley glances by, and we see that this is a place of
woodlands, piquant with a little of the roughness of unsophisticated
nature. But the scene changes suddenly, as in a theatre, and almost in
a moment the broad and teeming Tyne blazes beneath the scorching summer
sun, and the gray houses of Gateshead and Newcastle fill the picture
with life and motion. The waves glance and sparkle,–a wide plain of
shimmering silver. The stream is alive with shipping. There is movement
everywhere, and smoke and industry and traffic,–and doubtless noise,
though we are on a height and cannot hear it. A busier scene could not
be found in all this land, nor one more strikingly representative of
the industrial character and interests of England.

[Illustration: _Berwick Castle._]

After leaving Newcastle we glide past a gentle, winding ravine, thickly
wooded on both its sides, with a bright stream glancing in its depth.
The meadows all around are green, fresh, and smiling, and soon our
road skirts beautiful Morpeth, bestriding a dark and lovely river and
crouched in a bosky dell. At Widdrington the land shelves downward, the
trees become sparse, and you catch a faint glimpse of the sea,–the
broad blue wilderness of the Northern Ocean. From this point onward
the panorama is one of perfect and unbroken loveliness. Around you are
spacious meadows of fern, diversified with clumps of fir-trees, and
the sweet wind that blows upon your face seems glad and buoyant with
its exultant vitality. At Warkworth Castle, once the home of the noble
Hotspur, the ocean view is especially magnificent,–the brown and red
sails of the ships and various craft descried at sea contributing to
the prospect a lovely element of picturesque character. Alnwick, with
its storied associations of “the Percy out of Northumberland,” is left
to the westward, while on the east the romantic village of Alnmouth
woos the traveller with an irresistible charm. No one who has once seen
that exquisite place can ever be content without seeing it again,–and
yet there is no greater wisdom in the conduct of life than to avoid
forever a second sight of any spot where you have once been happy. This
village, with its little lighthouse and graceful steeple, is built upon
a promontory in the sea, and is approached over the sands by a long,
isolated road across a bridge of four fine arches. All the country-side
in this region is rich. At Long Houghton a grand church uprears its
vast square tower, lonely and solemn in its place of graves. Royal
Berwick comes next, stately and serene upon its ocean crag, with the
white-crested waves curling on its beach and the glad waters of the
Tweed kissing the fringes of its sovereign mantle, as they rush into
the sea. The sun is sinking now, and over the many-coloured meadows,
red and brown and golden and green, the long, thin shadows of the trees
slope eastward and softly hint the death of day. The sweet breeze
of evening stirs the long grasses, and on many a gray stone house
shakes the late pink and yellow roses and makes the ivy tremble. It
is Scotland now, and as we pass through the storied Border we keep
the ocean almost constantly in view,–losing it for a little while at
Dunbar, but finding it again at Drem,–till, past the battlefield of
Prestonpans, and past the quaint villages of Cockenzie and Musselburgh
and the villas of Portobello, we come slowly to a pause in the shadow
of Arthur’s Seat, where the great lion crouches over the glorious city
of Edinburgh.

Loch Awe, September 14, 1889.–Under a soft gray sky and through
fields that still are slumbering in the early morning mist, the train
rolls out of Edinburgh, bound for the north. The wind blows gently;
the air is cool; strips of thin, fleecy cloud are driving over the
distant hill-tops, and the birds are flying low. The track is by
Queensferry, and in that region many little low stone cottages are
seen, surrounded with simple gardens of flowers. For a long time the
train runs through a deep ravine, with rocky banks on either hand,
but presently it emerges into pastures where the sheep are grazing,
and into fields in which the late harvest stands garnered in many
graceful sheaves. Tall chimneys, vigorously smoking, are visible here
and there in the distant landscape. The fat, black rooks are taking
their morning flight, clamouring as they go. Stone houses with red
roofs glide into the picture, and a graceful church-spire rises on a
remote hill-top. In all directions there are trees, but they seem of
recent growth, for no one of them is large. Soon the old cattle-market
town of Falkirk springs up in the prospect, girt with fine hills and
crested with masses of white and black smoke that is poured upward
from the many tall chimneys of its busy ironworks. The houses here
are made of gray stone and of red brick, and many of them are large,
square buildings, seemingly commodious and opulent. A huge cemetery,
hemmed in with trees and shrubs, is seen to skirt the city. Carron
River, with its tiny but sounding cataract, is presently passed, and
at Larbert your glance rests lovingly upon “the little gray church
on the windy hill.” North of this place, beyond the Forth, the
country in the distance is mountainous, while all the intermediate
region is rich with harvest-fields. Kinnaird lies to the eastward,
while northward a little way is the famous field of Bannockburn. Two
miles more and the train pauses in “gray Stirling,” glorious with
associations of historic splendour and ancient romance. The Castle
of Stirling is not as ruggedly grand as that of Edinburgh, but it is
a noble architectural pile, and it is nobly placed on a great crag
fronting the vast mountains and the gloomy heavens of the north. The
best view of it is obtained looking at it southward, and as I gazed
upon it, under a cold and frowning sky, the air was populous with many
birds that circled around its cone-shaped turrets, and hovered over the
plain below, while across the distant mountain-tops, east, west, and
north, dark and ragged masses of mist were driven, in wild, tempestuous
flight. Speeding onward now, along the southern bank of the Forth,
the traveller takes a westerly course, past Gargunnock and Kippen,
seeing little villages of gray stone cottages nestled in the hill-gaps,
distant mountain-sides, clad with furze, dark patches of woodland, and
moors of purple heather commingled with meadows of brilliant green.
The sun breaks out, for a few moments, and the sombre hue of the gray
sky is lightened with streaks of gold. At Bucklyvie there is a second
pause, and then the course is northwest, through banks and braes of
heather, to peaceful Aberfoyle and the mountains of Menteith.

[Illustration: _Stirling Castle._]

The characteristic glory of the Scottish hills is the infinite variety
and beauty of their shapes and the loveliness of their colour. The
English mountains and lakes in Westmoreland and Cumberland possess a
sweeter and softer grace, and are more calmly and wooingly beautiful;
but the Scottish mountains and lakes excel them in grandeur, majesty,
and romance. It would be presumption to undertake to describe the
solemn austerity, the lofty and lonely magnificence, the bleak, weird,
haunted isolation, and the fairy-like fantasy of this poetic realm;
but a lover of it may declare his passion and speak his sense of its
enthralling and bewitching charm. Sir Walter Scott’s spirited and
trenchant lines on the emotion of the patriot sang themselves over
and over in my thought, and were wholly and grandly ratified, as the
coach rolled up the mountain road, ever climbing height after height,
while new and ever new prospects continually unrolled themselves
before delighted eyes, on the familiar but always novel journey from
Aberfoyle to the Trosachs. That mountain road, on its upward course,
and during most part of the way, winds through treeless pastureland,
and in every direction, as your vision ranges, you behold other
mountains equally bleak, save for the bracken and the heather, among
which the sheep wander, and the grouse nestle in concealment or whir
away on frightened wings. Ben Lomond, wrapt in straggling mists, was
dimly visible far to the west; Ben A’an towered conspicuous in the
foreground; and further north Ben Ledi heaved its broad mass and rugged
sides to heaven. Loch Vennacher, seen for a few moments, shone like a
diamond set in emeralds, and as we gazed we seemed to see the bannered
barges of Roderick Dhu and to hear the martial echoes of “Hail to the
Chief.” Loch Achray glimmered forth for an instant under the gray sky,
as when “the small birds would not sing aloud” and the wrath equally
of tempest and of war hung silently above it, in one awful moment of
suspense. There was a sudden and dazzling vision of Loch Katrine, and
then all prospect was broken, and, rolling down among the thickly
wooded dwarf hills that give the name of Trosachs to this place, we
were lost in the masses of fragrant foliage that girdle and adorn, in
perennial verdure the hallowed scene of _The Lady of the Lake_.

[Illustration: _Loch Achray._]

[Illustration: _Loch Katrine._]

Loch Katrine is another Lake Horicon, with a grander environment,
and this, like all the Scottish lakes, has the advantage of a more
evenly sharp and vigorous air and of leaden and frowning skies [in
which, nevertheless, there is a peculiar, penetrating light,] that
darken their waters and impart to them a dangerous aspect that yet is
strangely beautiful. As we swept past Ellen’s island and Fitz-James’s
silver strand I was grateful to see them in the mystery of this gray
light and not in the garish sunshine. All around this sweet lake are
the sentinel mountains,–Ben Venue rising in the south, Ben A’an in
the east, and all the castellated ramparts that girdle Glen Finglas in
the north. The eye dwells enraptured upon the circle of the hills; but
by this time the imagination is so acutely stimulated, and the mind is
so filled with glorious sights and exciting and ennobling reflections,
that the sense of awe is tempered with a pensive sadness, and you feel
yourself rebuked and humbled by the final and effectual lesson of man’s
insignificance that is taught by the implacable vitality of these
eternal mountains. It is a relief to be brought back for a little to
common life, and this relief you find in the landing at Stronachlachar
and the ensuing drive,–across the narrow strip of the shire of
Stirling that intervenes between Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond,–to
the port of Inversnaid. That drive is through a wild and picturesque
country, but after the mountain road from Aberfoyle to the Trosachs
it could not well seem otherwise than calm,–at least till the final
descent into the vale of Inversnaid. From Inversnaid there is a short
sail upon the northern waters of Loch Lomond,–forever haunted by the
shaggy presence of Rob Roy and the fierce and terrible image of Helen
Macgregor,–and then, landing at Ardlui, you drive past Inverarnan
and hold a northern course to Crianlarich, traversing the vale of the
Falloch and skirting along the western slope of the grim and gloomy
Grampians, on which for miles and miles no human habitation is seen,
nor any living creature save the vacant, abject sheep. The mountains
are everywhere now, brown with bracken and purple with heather, stony,
rugged, endless, desolate, and still with a stillness that is awful in
its pitiless sense of inhumanity and utter isolation. At Crianlarich
the railway is found again, and thence you whirl onward through lands
of Breadalbane and Argyle to the proud mountains of Glen Orchy and the
foot of that loveliest of all the lovely waters of Scotland,–the ebony
crystal of Loch Awe. The night is deepening over it as I write these
words. The dark and solemn mountains that guard it stretch away into
the mysterious distance and are lost in the shuddering gloom. The gray
clouds have drifted by, and the cold, clear stars of autumnal heaven
are reflected in its crystal depth, unmarred by even the faintest
ripple upon its surface. A few small boats, moored to anchored buoys,
float motionless upon it, a little way from shore. There, on its lonely
island, dimly visible in the fading light, stands the gray ruin of
Kilchurn. A faint whisper comes from the black woods that fringe the
mountain base, and floating from far across this lonely, haunted water
there is a drowsy bird-note that calls to silence and to sleep.

Oban, September 17, 1889.–Seen in the twilight, as I first saw it,
Oban is a pretty and picturesque seaside village, gay with glancing
lights and busy with the movements of rapid vehicles and expeditious
travellers. It is called the capital of the Western Highlands, and no
doubt it deserves the name, for it is the common centre of all the
trade and enterprise of this region, and all the threads of travel
radiate from it. Built in a semicircle, along the margin of a lovely
sheltered bay, it looks forth upon the wild waters of the Firth of
Lorn, visible, southwesterly, through the sable sound of Kerrera,
while behind and around it rises a bold range of rocky and sparsely
wooded hills. On these are placed a few villas, and on a point toward
the north stand the venerable, ivy-clad ruins of Dunolly Castle, in
the ancestral domain of the ancient Highland family of Macdougall. The
houses of Oban are built of gray stone and are mostly modern. There
are many hotels fronting upon the Parade, which extends for a long
distance upon the verge of the sea. The opposite shore is Kerrera, an
island about a mile distant, and beyond that island, and beyond Lorn
water, extends the beautiful island of Mull, confronting iron-ribbed
Morven. In many ways Oban is suggestive of an American seaport upon the
New England coast. Various characteristics mark it that may be seen
at Gloucester, Massachusetts [although that once romantic place has
been spoiled by the Irish peasantry], and at Mount Desert in Maine.
The surroundings, indeed, are different; for the Scottish hills have
a delicious colour and a wildness all their own; while the skies,
unlike those of blue and brilliant America, lower, gloom, threaten,
and tinge the whole world beneath them,–the moors, the mountains, the
clustered gray villages, the lonely ruins, and the tumbling plains of
the desolate sea,–with a melancholy, romantic, shadowy darkness, the
perfect twilight of poetic vision. No place could be more practical
than Oban is, in its everyday life, nor any place more sweet and
dreamlike to the pensive mood of contemplation and the roving gaze of
fancy. Viewed, as I viewed it, under the starlight and the drifting
cloud, between two and three o’clock this morning, it was a picture
of beauty, never to be forgotten. A few lights were twinkling here
and there among the dwellings, or momentarily flaring on the deserted
Parade. No sound was heard but the moaning of the night-wind and the
plash of waters softly surging on the beach. Now and then a belated
passenger came wandering along the pavement and disappeared in a turn
of the road. The air was sweet with the mingled fragrance of the
heathery hills and the salt odours of the sea. Upon the glassy bosom of
the bay, dark, clear, and gently undulating with the pressure of the
ocean tide, more than seventy small boats, each moored at a buoy and
all veered in one direction, swung careless on the water; and mingled
with them were upward of twenty schooners and little steamboats, all
idle and all at peace. Many an hour of toil and sorrow is yet to come,
before the long, strange journey of life is ended; but the memory of
that wonderful midnight moment, alone with the majesty of Nature, will
be a solace in the darkest of them.

[Illustration: _Oban._]

The Highland journey, from first to last, is an experience altogether
novel and precious, and it is remembered with gratitude and delight.
Before coming to Oban I gave two nights and days to Loch Awe,–a
place so beautiful and so fraught with the means of happiness that
time stands still in it, and even “the ceaseless vulture” of care
and regret ceases for a while to vex the spirit with remembrance of
anything that is sad. Looking down from the summit of one of the great
mountains that are the rich and rugged setting of this jewel, I saw the
crumbling ruin of Kilchurn upon its little island, gray relic first of
the Macgregors and then of the Campbells, who dispossessed them and
occupied their realm. It must have been an imperial residence once.
Its situation,–cut off from the mainland and commanding a clear view,
up the lake and down the valleys, southward and northward,–is superb.
No enemy could approach it unawares, and doubtless the followers of
the Macgregor occupied every adjacent pass and were ambushed in every
thicket on the heights. Seen from the neighbouring mountain-side the
waters of Loch Awe are of such crystal clearness that near some parts
of the shore the white sands are visible in perfect outline beneath
them, while all the glorious engirdling hills are reflected in their
still and shining depth. Sometimes the sun flashed out and changed the
waters to liquid silver, lighting up the gray ruin and flooding the
mountain slopes with gold; but more often the skies kept their sombre
hue, darkening all beneath them with a lovely gloom. All around were
the beautiful hills of Glen Orchy, and far to the eastward great waves
of white and leaden mist, slowly drifting in the upper ether, now hid
and now disclosed the Olympian head of Ben Lui and the tangled hills
of Glen Shirra and Glen Fyne. Close by, in its sweet vale of Sabbath
stillness, was couched the little town of Dalmally, sole reminder of
the presence of man in these remote solitudes, where Nature keeps
the temple of her worship, and where words are needless to utter her
glory and her praise. All day long the peaceful lake slumbered in
placid beauty under the solemn sky,–a few tiny boats and two little
steamers swinging at anchor on its bosom. All day long the shadows of
the clouds, commingled with flecks of sunshine, went drifting over
the mountain. At nightfall two great flocks of sheep, each attended
by the pensive shepherd in his plaid, and each guided and managed by
those wonderfully intelligent collies that are a never-failing delight
in these mountain lands, came slowly along the vale and presently
vanished in Glen Strae. Nothing then broke the stillness but the
sharp cry of the shepherd’s dog and the sound of many cataracts, some
hidden and some seen, that lapse in music and fall in many a mass of
shattered silver and flying spray, through deep, rocky rifts down the
mountain-side. After sunset a cold wind came on to blow, and soon the
heavens were clear and “all the number of the stars” were mirrored in
beautiful Loch Awe.

They speak of the southwestern extremity of this lake as the head of
it. Loch Awe station, accordingly, is at its foot, near Kilchurn.
Nevertheless, “where Macgregor sits is the head of the table,” for
the foot of the loch is lovelier than its head. And yet its head also
is lovely, although in a less positive way. From Loch Awe station to
Ford, a distance of twenty-six miles, you sail in a toy steamboat,
sitting either on the open deck or in a cabin of glass and gazing at
the panorama of the hills on either hand, some wooded and some bare,
and all magnificent. A little after passing the mouth of the river
Awe, which flows through the black Pass of Brander and unites with
Loch Etive, I saw the double crest of great Ben Cruachan towering
into the clouds and visible at intervals above them,–the higher
peak magnificently bold. It is a wild country all about this region,
but here and there you see a little hamlet or a lone farm-house, and
among the moorlands the occasional figure of a sportsman, with his
dog and gun. As the boat sped onward into the moorland district the
mountains became great shapes of snowy crystal, under the sullen sky,
and presently resolved into vast cloud-shadows, dimly outlined against
the northern heavens, and seemingly based upon a sea of rolling vapour.
The sail is past Inisdrynich, the island of the Druids, past Inishail
and Inisfraoch, and presently past the lovely ruin of Inischonnel
Castle, called also Ardchonnel, facing southward, at the end of an
island promontory, and covered thick with ivy. The landing is at Ford
Pier, and about one mile from that point you may see a little inn, a
few cottages crumbling in picturesque decay, and a diminutive kirk,
that constitute the village of Ford. My purpose here was to view an
estate close by this village, now owned by Henry Bruce, Esq., but
many years ago the domain of Alexander Campbell, Esq., an ancestor of
my children, being their mother’s grandsire; and not in all Scotland
could be found a more romantic spot than the glen by the lochside that
shelters the melancholy, decaying, haunted fabric of the old house
of Ederline. Such a poet as Edgar Poe would have revelled in that
place,–and well he might! There is a new and grand mansion, on higher
ground, in the park; but the ancient house, almost abandoned now, is a
thousand times more characteristic and interesting than the new one.
Both are approached through a long, winding avenue, overhung with great
trees that interlace their branches above it and make a cathedral
aisle; but soon the pathway to the older house turns aside into a
grove of chestnuts, birches, and yews,–winding under vast dark boughs
that bend like serpents completely to the earth and then ascend once
more,–and so goes onward, through sombre glades and through groves
of rhododendron, to the levels of Loch Ederline and the front of the
mansion, now desolate and half in ruins. It was an old house a hundred
years ago. It is covered with ivy and buried among the trees, and on
its surface and on the tree-trunks around it the lichen and the yellow
moss have gathered, in rank luxuriance. The waters of the lake ripple
upon a rocky landing almost at its door. Here once lived as proud a
Campbell as ever breathed in Scotland, and here his haughty spirit
wrought out for itself the doom of a lonely age and a broken heart. His
grave is on a little island in the lake,–a family burying-ground,[49]
such as may often be found on ancient, sequestered estates in the
Highlands,–where the tall trees wave above it and the weeds are
growing thick upon its surface, while over it the rooks caw and clamour
and the idle winds career, in heedless indifference that is sadder even
than neglect. So destiny vindicates its inexorable edict and the great
law of retribution is fulfilled. A stranger sits in his seat and rules
in his hall, and of all the followers that once waited on his lightest
word there remains but a single one,–aged, infirm, and nearing the end
of the long journey,–to scrape the moss from his forgotten gravestone
and to think sometimes of his ancient greatness and splendour, forever
passed away. We rowed around Loch Ederline and looked down into its
black waters, that in some parts have never been sounded, and are
fabled to reach through to the other side of the world, and, as our
oars dipped and plashed, the timid moor-fowl scurried into the bushes
and the white swans sailed away in haughty wrath, while, warned by
gathering storm-clouds, multitudes of old rooks, that long have haunted
the place, came flying overhead, with many a querulous croak, toward
their nests in Ederline grove.

[Illustration: LOCH AWE]

Back to Loch Awe station, and presently onward past the Falls of
Cruachan and through the grim Pass of Brander,–down which the waters
of the Awe rush in a sable flood between jagged and precipitous cliffs
for miles and miles,–and soon we see the bright waves of Loch Etive
smiling under a sunset sky, and the many bleak, brown hills that fringe
Glen Lonan and range along to Oban and the verge of the sea. There
will be an hour for rest and thought. It seems wild and idle to write
about these things. Life in Scotland is deeper, richer, stronger, and
sweeter than any words could possibly be that any man could possibly
expend upon it. The place is the natural home of imagination, romance,
and poetry. Thought is grander here, and passion is wilder and more
exuberant than on the velvet plains and among the chaste and stately
elms of the South. The blood flows in a stormier torrent and the mind
takes on something of the gloomy and savage majesty of those gaunt,
barren, lonely hills. Even Sir Walter Scott, speaking of his own great
works,–which are precious beyond words, and must always be loved
and cherished by readers who know what beauty is,–said that all he
had ever done was to polish the brasses that already were made. This
is the soul of excellence in British literature, and this, likewise,
is the basis of stability in British civilisation,–that the country
is lovelier than the loveliest poetry that ever was written about
it, or ever could be written about it, and that the land and the life
possess an inherent fascination for the inhabitants, that nothing
else could supply, and that no influence can ever destroy or even
seriously disturb. Democracy is rife all over the world, but it will
as soon impede the eternal courses of the stars as it will change the
constitution or shake the social fabric of this realm. “Once more upon
the waters–yet once more!” Soon upon the stormy billows of Lorn I
shall see these lovely shores fade in the distance. Soon, merged again
in the strife and tumult of the commonplace world, I shall murmur, with
as deep a sorrow as the sad strain itself expresses, the tender words
of Scott:

“Glenorchy’s proud mountains,
Kilchurn and her towers,
Glenstrae and Glenlyon
No longer are ours.”

“_The Heart of Scotland, Britain’s other eye._”–BEN JONSON

Edinburgh, August 24, 1890.–A bright blue sky, across which many
masses of thin white cloud are borne swiftly on the cool western wind,
bends over the stately city, and all her miles of gray mansions and
spacious, cleanly streets sparkle beneath it in a flood of summer
sunshine. It is the Lord’s Day, and most of the highways are deserted
and quiet. From the top of the Calton Hill you look down upon hundreds
of blue smoke-wreaths curling upward from the chimneys of the resting
and restful town, and in every direction the prospect is one of
opulence and peace. A thousand years of history are here crystallised
within the circuit of a single glance, and while you gaze upon one
of the grandest emblems that the world contains of a storied and
romantic past, you behold likewise a living and resplendent pageant
of the beauty of to-day. Nowhere else are the Past and the Present so
lovingly blended. There, in the centre, towers the great crown of St.
Giles. Hard by are the quaint slopes of the Canongate,–teeming with
illustrious, or picturesque, or terrible figures of Long Ago. Yonder
the glorious Castle Crag looks steadfastly westward,–its manifold,
wonderful colours continuously changing in the changeful daylight.
Down in the valley Holyrood, haunted by a myriad of memories and by
one resplendent face and entrancing presence, nestles at the foot of
the giant Salisbury Crag; while the dark, rivened peak of Arthur’s
Seat rears itself supremely over the whole stupendous scene. Southward
and westward, in the distance, extends the bleak range of the Pentland
Hills; eastward the cone of Berwick Law and the desolate Bass Rock seem
to cleave the sea; and northward, beyond the glistening crystal of the
Forth,–with the white lines of embattled Inchkeith like a diamond on
its bosom,–the lovely Lomonds, the virginal mountain breasts of Fife,
are bared to the kiss of heaven. It is such a picture as words can but
faintly suggest; but when you look upon it you readily comprehend the
pride and the passion with which a Scotsman loves his native land.

[Illustration: _The Crown of St. Giles’s._]

Dr. Johnson named Edinburgh as “a city too well known to admit
description.” That judgment was proclaimed more than a hundred years
ago,–before yet Caledonia had bewitched the world’s heart as the
haunted land of Robert Burns and Walter Scott,–and if it were true
then it is all the more true now. But while the reverent pilgrim along
the ancient highways of history may not wisely attempt description,
which would be superfluous, he perhaps may usefully indulge in brief
chronicle and impression,–for these sometimes prove suggestive to
minds that are kindred with his own. Hundreds of travellers visit
Edinburgh, but it is one thing to visit and another thing to see; and
every suggestion, surely, is of value that helps to clarify our vision.
This capital is not learned by driving about in a cab; for Edinburgh
to be truly seen and comprehended must be seen and comprehended as an
exponent of the colossal individuality of the Scottish character; and
therefore it must be observed with thought. Here is no echo and no
imitation. Many another provincial city of Britain is a miniature copy
of London; but the quality of Edinburgh is her own. Portions of her
architecture do indeed denote a reverence for ancient Italian models,
while certain other portions reveal the influence of the semi-classical
taste that prevailed in the time of the Regent, afterwards George
the Fourth. The democratic tendency of this period,–expressing
itself here precisely as it does everywhere else, in button-making
pettiness and vulgar commonplace,–is likewise sufficiently obvious.
Nevertheless, in every important detail of Edinburgh and of its life,
the reticent, resolute, formidable, impetuous, passionate character of
the Scottish race is conspicuous and predominant. Much has been said
against the Scottish spirit,–the tide of cavil purling on from Dr.
Johnson to Sydney Smith. Dignity has been denied to it, and so has
magnanimity, and so has humour; but there is no audience more quick
than the Scottish audience to respond either to pathos or to mirth;
there is no literature in the world so musically, tenderly, and weirdly
poetical as the Scottish literature; there is no place on earth where
the imaginative instinct of the national mind has resisted, as it has
resisted in Scotland, the encroachment of utility upon the domain
of romance; there is no people whose history has excelled that of
Scotland in the display of heroic, intellectual, and moral purpose,
combined with passionate sensibility; and no city could surpass the
physical fact of Edinburgh as a manifestation of broad ideas, unstinted
opulence, and grim and rugged grandeur. Whichever way you turn, and
whatever object you behold, that consciousness is always present
to your thought,–the consciousness of a race of beings intensely
original, individual, passionate, authoritative, and magnificent.

[Illustration: _Scott’s House in Edinburgh._]

The capital of Scotland is not only beautiful but eloquent. The
present writer does not assume to describe it, or to instruct the
reader concerning it, but only to declare that at every step the
sensitive mind is impressed with the splendid intellect, the individual
force, and the romantic charm of the Scottish character, as it is
commemorated and displayed in this delightful place. What a wealth of
significance it possesses may be indicated by even the most meagre
record and the most superficial commentary upon the passing events of
a traveller’s ordinary day. The greatest name in the literature of
Scotland is Walter Scott. He lived and laboured for twenty-four years
in the modest three-story, gray stone house which is No. 39 Castle
street. It has been my privilege to enter that house, and to stand in
the room in which Scott began the novel of _Waverley_. Many years roll
backward under the spell of such an experience, and the gray-haired
man is a boy again, with all the delights of the Waverley Novels
before him, health shining in his eyes, and joy beating in his heart,
as he looks onward through vistas of golden light into a paradise of
fadeless flowers and of happy dreams. The room that was Scott’s study
is a small one, on the first floor, at the back, and is lighted by one
large window, opening eastward, through which you look upon the rear
walls of sombre, gray buildings, and upon a small slope of green lawn,
in which is the unmarked grave of one of Sir Walter’s dogs. “The misery
of keeping a dog,” he once wrote, “is his dying so soon; but, to be
sure, if he lived for fifty years and then died, what would become of
me?” My attention was called to a peculiar fastening on the window of
the study,–invented and placed there by Scott himself,–so arranged
that the sash can be safely kept locked when raised a few inches from
the sill. On the south side of the room is the fireplace, facing which
he would sit as he wrote, and into which, of an evening, he has often
gazed, hearing meanwhile the moan of the winter wind, and conjuring
up, in the blazing brands, those figures of brave knights and gentle
ladies that were to live forever in the amber of his magical art. Next
to the study, on the same floor, is the larger apartment that was his
dining-room, where his portrait of Claverhouse, now at Abbotsford,
once hung above the mantel, and where so many of the famous people
of the past enjoyed his hospitality and his talk. On the south wall
of this room now hang two priceless autograph letters, one of them
in the handwriting of Scott, the other in that of Burns. Both rooms
are used for business offices now,–the house being tenanted by the
agency of the New Zealand Mortgage Company,–and both are furnished
with large presses, for the custody of deeds and family archives.
Nevertheless these rooms remain much as they were when Scott lived
in them, and his spirit seems to haunt the place. I was brought very
near to him that day, for in the same hour was placed in my hands the
original manuscript of his _Journal_, and I saw, in his handwriting,
the last words that ever fell from his pen. That _Journal_ is in two
quarto volumes. One of them is filled with writing; the other half
filled; and the lines in both are of a fine, small character, crowded
closely together. Toward the last the writing manifests only too well
the growing infirmity of the broken Minstrel,–the forecast of the
hallowed deathbed of Abbotsford and the venerable and glorious tomb
of Dryburgh. These are his last words: “We slept reasonably, but on
the next morning”–and so the _Journal_ abruptly ends. I can in no way
express the emotion with which I looked upon those feebly scrawled
syllables,–the last effort of the nerveless hand that once had been
strong enough to thrill the heart of all the world. The _Journal_ has
been lovingly and carefully edited by David Douglas, whose fine taste
and great gentleness of nature, together with his ample knowledge
of Scottish literature and society, eminently qualify him for the
performance of this sacred duty; and the world will possess this
treasure and feel the charm of its beauty and pathos,–which is the
charm of a great nature expressed in its perfect simplicity; but the
spell that is cast upon the heart and the imagination by a prospect of
the actual handwriting of Sir Walter Scott, in the last words that he
wrote, cannot be conveyed in print.

[Illustration: _The Maiden._]

From the house in Castle street I went to the rooms of the Royal
Society, where there is a portrait of Scott, by John Graham Gilbert,
more lifelike,–being representative of his soul as well as his face
and person,–than any other that is known. It hangs there, in company
with other paintings of former presidents of this institution,–notably
one of Sir David Brewster and one of James Watt,–in the hall in which
Sir Walter often sat, presiding over the deliberations and literary
exercises of his comrades in scholarship and art. In another hall I
saw a pulpit in which John Knox used to preach, in the old days of
what Dr. Johnson expressively called “The ruffians of Reformation,” and
hard by was “The Maiden,” the terrible Scottish guillotine, with its
great square knife, set in a thick weight of lead, by which the grim
Regent Morton was slain, in 1581, the Marquis of Argyle, in 1661, and
the gallant, magnanimous, devoted Earl of Argyle, in 1685,–one more
sacrifice to the insatiate House of Stuart. This monster has drunk
the blood of many a noble gentleman, and there is a weird, sinister
suggestion of gratified ferocity and furtive malignity in its rude,
grisly, uncanny fabric of blackened timbers. You may see, in the
quaint little panelled chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, in the Cowgate,
not distant from the present abode of the sanguinary Maiden,–brooding
over her hideous consummation of slaughter and misery,–the place
where the mangled body of the heroic Argyle was laid, in secret
sanctuary, for several nights after that scene of piteous sacrifice at
the old Market Cross; and when you walk in the solemn enclosure of the
Grayfriars church,–so fitly styled, by Sir Walter, The Westminster
Abbey of Scotland,–your glance will fall upon a sunken pillar, low
down upon the northern slope of that haunted, lamentable ground, which
bears the letters “I. M.,” and which marks the grave of the baleful
Morton, whom the Maiden decapitated, for his share in the murder of
Rizzio. In these old cities there is no keeping away from sepulchres.
“The paths of glory,” in every sense, “lead but to the grave.” George
Buchanan and Allan Ramsay, poets whom no literary pilgrim will neglect,
rest in this churchyard, though the exact places of their interment are
not positively denoted, and here, likewise, rest the elegant historian
Robertson, and “the Addison of Scotland,” Henry Mackenzie. The building
in the High street in which Allan Ramsay once had his abode and his
bookshop, and in which he wrote his pastoral of _The Gentle Shepherd_,
is occupied now by a barber; but, since he is one that scorns not
to proclaim over his door, in mighty letters, the poetic lineage of
his dwelling, it seems not amiss that this haunt of the Muses should
have fallen into such lowly hands. Of such a character, hallowed with
associations that pique the fancy and touch the heart, are the places
and the names that an itinerant continually encounters in his rambles
in Edinburgh.

[Illustration: _Grayfriars Church._]

[Illustration: _High Street–Allan Ramsay’s Shop._]

The pilgrim could muse for many an hour over the little Venetian
mirror[50] that hangs in the bedroom of Mary Stuart, in Holyrood
Palace. What faces and what scenes it must have reflected! How often
her own beautiful countenance and person,–the dazzling eyes, the
snowy brow, the red gold hair, the alabaster bosom,–may have blazed
in its crystal depths, now tarnished and dim, like the record of her
own calamitous and wretched days! Did those lovely eyes look into
this mirror, and was their glance scared and tremulous, or fixed and
terrible, on that dismal February night, so many years ago, when the
fatal explosion in the Kirk o’ Field resounded with an echo that has
never died away? Who can tell? This glass saw the gaunt and livid face
of Ruthven, when he led his comrades of murder into that royal chamber,
and it beheld Rizzio, screaming in mortal terror, as he was torn
from the skirts of his mistress and savagely slain before her eyes.
Perhaps, also, when that hideous episode was over and done with, it
saw Queen Mary and her despicable husband the next time they met, and
were alone together, in that ghastly room. “It shall be dear blood to
some of you,” the queen had said, while the murder of Rizzio was doing.
Surely, having so injured a woman, any man with eyes to see might have
divined his fate, in the perfect calm of her heavenly face and the
smooth tones of her gentle voice, at such a moment as that. “At the
fireside tragedies are acted,”–and tragic enough must have been the
scene of that meeting, apart from human gaze, in the chamber of crime
and death. No other relic of Mary Stuart stirs the imagination as that
mirror does,–unless, perhaps, it be the little ebony crucifix, once
owned and reverenced by Sir Walter Scott and now piously treasured at
Abbotsford, which she held in her hands when she went to her death, in
the hall of Fotheringay Castle.

[Illustration: _The Canongate._]

Holyrood Palace, in Mary Stuart’s time, was not of its present shape.
The tower containing her rooms was standing, and from that tower the
building extended eastward to the abbey, and then it veered to the
south. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1544, and again in
Cromwell’s time, but both church and palace were rebuilt. The entire
south side, with its tower that looks directly towards the crag, was
added in the later period of Charles the Second. The furniture in Mary
Stuart’s room is partly spurious, but the rooms are genuine. Musing
thus, and much striving to reconstruct those strange scenes of the
past, in which that beautiful, dangerous woman bore so great a part,
the pilgrim strolls away into the Canongate,–once clean and elegant,
now squalid and noisome,–and still the storied figures of history walk
by his side or come to meet him at every close and wynd. John Knox,
Robert Burns, Tobias Smollett, David Hume, Dugald Stuart, John Wilson,
Hugh Miller, Gay, led onward by the blithe and gracious Duchess of
Queensberry, and Dr. Johnson, escorted by the affectionate and faithful
James Boswell, the best biographer that ever lived,–these and many
more, the lettered worthies of long ago, throng into this haunted
street and glorify it with the rekindled splendours of other days. You
cannot be lonely here. This it is that makes the place so eloquent and
so precious. For what did those men live and labour? To what were their
shining talents and wonderful forces devoted? To the dissemination of
learning; to the emancipation of the human mind from the bondage of
error; to the ministry of the beautiful,–and thus to the advancement
of the human race in material comfort, in gentleness of thought, in
charity of conduct, in refinement of manners, and in that spiritual
exaltation by which, and only by which, the true progress of mankind is
at once accomplished and proclaimed.

[Illustration: HOLYROOD CASTLE

AND

ARTHUR’S SEAT]

But the dark has come, and this Edinburgh ramble shall end with the
picture that closed its own magnificent day. You are standing on the
rocky summit of Arthur’s Seat. From that superb mountain peak your
gaze takes in the whole capital, together with the country in every
direction for many miles around. The evening is uncommonly clear. Only
in the west dense masses of black cloud are thickly piled upon each
other, through which the sun is sinking, red and sullen with menace of
the storm. Elsewhere and overhead the sky is crystal, and of a pale,
delicate blue. A cold wind blows briskly from the east and sweeps a
million streamers of white smoke in turbulent panic over the darkening
roofs of the city, far below. In the north the lovely Lomond Hills are
distinctly visible across the dusky level of the Forth, which stretches
away toward the ocean, one broad sheet of glimmering steel,–its margin
indented with many a graceful bay, and the little islands that adorn
it shining like stones of amethyst set in polished flint. A few brown
sails are visible, dotting the waters, and far to the east appears
the graceful outline of the Isle of May,–which was the shrine of the
martyred St. Adrian,–and the lonely, wave-beaten Bass Rock, with
its millions of seagulls and solan-geese. Busy Leith and picturesque
Newhaven and every little village on the coast is sharply defined
in the frosty light. At your feet is St. Leonards, with the tiny
cottage of Jeanie Deans. Yonder, in the south, are the gray ruins of
Craigmillar Castle, once the favourite summer home of the Queen of
Scots, now open to sun and rain, moss-grown and desolate, and swept
by every wind that blows. More eastward the eye lingers upon Carberry
Hill, where Mary surrendered herself to her nobles, just before the
romantic episode of Loch Leven Castle; and far beyond that height the
sombre fields, intersected by green hawthorn hedges and many-coloured
with the various hues of pasture and harvest, stretch away to the hills
of Lammermoor and the valleys of Tweed and Esk. Darker and darker grow
the gathering shadows of the gloaming. The lights begin to twinkle in
the city streets. The echoes of the rifles die away in the Hunter’s
Bog. A piper far off is playing the plaintive music of _The Blue Bells
of Scotland_. And as your steps descend the crag, the rising moon, now
nearly at the full, shines through the gauzy mist and hangs above the
mountain like a shield of gold upon the towered citadel of night.

Share