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Literary Tours in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

The following is from Literary Tours in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by D. T. Holmes, B.A.:

Chapter VIII--Metrical and Supplementary

Arrival of the Mail-train at a Highland Station--Defoe, the Father of Journalism--A Village Toper--A Reverend Hellenist--Antigone--Shadows of the Manse--"My Heart's in the Highlands"--Saddell, Kintyre--Springtime in Perthshire--Dr. George Macdonald's Creed--Abbotsford--Carlyle--Shelley--Picture in an Inn--Rain-storm at Loch Awe--Kinlochewe--General Wade--Sound of Raasay in December--Les Neiges d' Antan--The Islands of the Ness--American Tourist Loquitur--The Miners--In a Country Graveyard--No Place like Home.

I--Arrival of the Mail-Train at a Highland Station

"Hark! 'tis the twanging horn." So Cowper sang
Of the slow post-boy by the flooded Ouse;
In different fashion now the great world's news
Goes to each nook of Britain. The harangue
Of politician; great events that hang
In Fortune's hand, with magic speed diffuse
From London's centre to the furthest Lews,
Their tingling rumour and resounding clang.
Daily along yon track of curving steels
Comes to this Highland clachan, Watt's machine,
Rolling in triumph on its iron wheels,
And bringing letter, journal, magazine,
To kilted Celts with collies at their heels
And frivolous tourists from the putting-green.

II--Defoe (Father of Journalism)

Let me here pay a tribute to the marked excellence and literary skill of the newspapers of provincial Scotland. These are very numerous--even Ailsa Craig has a sheet of its own, The Ailsa Craig Banner.

Father of journalists! illustrious liar!
Untiring wielder of the nimblest quill
That ever shed the stanchless inky rill
Upon the virgin whiteness of the quire.
What full and varied stores of gold and mire,
Magnificence and squalor, good and ill,
Prayers, curses, loyalty and treason fill
Thy books! But that which children most admire
Of all thy hundred volumes, is the one
Fated for ever more to charm mankind
From the far Orient to the Setting Sun.
Prompt-witted Daniel! thou has left behind
Upon the Sands of Time, distinctly traced,
One footmark that can never be effaced.

III--A Village Toper

John loved strong waters and ne'er stirred his feet
Abroad in leafy spring or summer's heat,
Autumnal breeze or winter's rimy chill,
Unsolaced by the nectar of the still.
Spirits came always kindly to his lips,
And time he measured not by hours but "nips."
Teetotalers to him were curse and gall,
Grim Banquos at the world's wide festival,
Men, whom a weird and fate-ordainéd bale,
Had smitten with the hate of cakes and ale,
A soda-water, syphon-squirting crew,
Guilty of treason to the revenue:
Their lurid language and their unctuous warnings,
Their moral-pointings and their tale-adornings,
And, worst of all, their shameful waste of ink
In signing pledges to abstain from drink,
Proved them a witless and a churlish band,
Unfit to dwell in any Christian land.

IV--A Reverend Hellenist

In that old ivied manse exists
  A scholar, wrinkled, bent, and gray,
His student lamp gleams through the mists
  And twinkles on till break of day.

This sage is wedded to his books,
  And Sultan-like his harem's full,
He dotes upon them in their nooks
  With love and joy that never cool.

No wonder that his back is bent,
  Or that his eye has mystic glows,
He pores on pages redolent
  Of love and love's undying rose.

No earthly maiden, fresh and sweet,
  Could please his fancy half so well
As a Greek nymph with twinkling feet
  Skipping in some Arcadian dell.

V--Antigone (Read in a Highland Manse)

A form of beauty blent with hardihood,
Majestic as Olympus wreathed in snows,
What modern pages of romance disclose
A radiant maiden of such dauntless mood!
Yet, when the tyrant strives with outrage rude
The unyielding maid in darkness to enclose,
Then, only then, her burning heart outflows
In anguished cries of love, but unsubdued
By baser throbbings. Ah! that nuptial hymn
Unsung! that bond in death! All men agree
To crown thee in that chamber dark and dim
With love's immortal wreath, Antigoné.
Since love and duty in thy death combine,
An immortality of praise is thine.

VI--Shadows of the Manse


Lo! we have him of shaven face
  And curls of long and lustrous hair,
Who breathes an atmosphere of grace
  And has a wondrous gift in prayer.
  You'd ne'er suspect to see him there,
Shaking his head in solemn guise,
  The college life of deil-may-care
Diversion that behind him lies


And then the little starveling pope
  Who strives to make his sermons new
By stringing florid scraps of hope
  And faith and love to dazzle you:
  From Stopford Brooke a phrase or two,
A gleaming line from Arnold's page,
  Whole screeds of Browning and a few
Stolen thunders from the Chelsea sage.


Perhaps the most diverting wight
  Is he who sees in Holy Writ
Old Jewish fables gross and trite
  To semblance of a system knit--
  Fables for modern taste unfit,
Until he cleans the dross away
  And shows the tiny little bit
Of gold that gleams amid the clay.


But worst of all is he who jests,
  Or tries to jest, in pulpit gown,
Lord, save us from such holy pests
  Who so unseemly act the clown
  And pull the tabernacle down
To something worse than pantomime:
  On all such zanies let us frown
And scourge them both in prose and rhyme.

VII--"My Heart's In the Highlands"

Puzzling over musty tomes,
  What a life to lead,
While each gay companion roams
  Where his fancies lead!

One beside a shady pool
  Sweeps the wave for hours,
Comes home with his basket full,
  When the evening lowers.

Some more energetic wights
  Leave the level land,
Mountaineer on dizzy heights,
  Alpenstock in hand.

Others boat in sunny bays
  Where bright sands are seen
Glimmering amid a maze
  Of tangled flowers marine.

Luck to all is what I wish
  With a meed of fun,
I'll row, mountaineer, and fish,
  When your sports are done.

VIII--Saddell (Kintyre)

Fresh gusts of wind ripple the ocean's face,
And the green slopes, after the night's soft rain,
Glitter beneath the blue.

Most glorious are the sea-descending glens,
Vivid with countless ferns, and with the blaze
Of sun-enamoured broom.

The dark, tip-tilted rocks of cruel mood,
Show a stern beauty through the creamy foam
That flecks their rugged flanks.

See, from this hill-top, how the blazing Sound
Is marked by moving shadows of the clouds
That skim aloft in air.

Through the clear radiance of the freshened morn,
The eye can see the far farm-windows gleam
Up on the Arran hills.

IX--Springtime in Perthshire

Returning Springtime fills the woods with song--
The ring-dove, sick for love, is cooing sweet;
The lark, scorning the daisies, soars to greet
The sun, while the brown swarms of bees among
The flowery meadows skim in haste along.
Once more the young year glories in the feat
Of driving winter off with vernal heat
And tepid sap luxuriantly strong.
Winter has drawn aloof his snowy powers
To the high peaks that domineer the plain,
And, like a vanquished leader, grimly lowers,
From a safe distance, on the victor's reign.
E'er many months have passed, his arrowy showers
And gusty cohorts will descend again.

X--Dr. George Macdonald's Creed

Written at Cullen; Reprinted (by kind permission) from the Scotsman.

God will not suffer that a single one
Of His own creatures, in His image made,
Should die, and in irrevocable shade
Lie evermore--neglected and undone.
It is not thus a father treats his son,
And those whose folly credits it, degrade
God's love and fatherhood, that never fade,
By lies as base as devils ever spun.
Man's love is but a pale reflex of God's,
And God is love, and never will condemn
Beyond remission--though He school with rods--
His children, but will one day comfort them.
Dives will have his drink at last, and stand
Among the faithful ones at God's right hand.


"Dryden and Scott, men of a giant seed!"
So said I to myself, gazing upon
The pictured countenance of Glorious John,
In Abbotsford, hard by the storied Tweed.
These twain were brothers, kin in mind and deed:
Old England never had a brawnier son
Than Dryden; and in fervid Scotland none
Better than Scott exemplified the breed.
After five centuries of blood and hate,
Britain is one leal land from north to south,
From gusty Thurso to St. Michael's Mount,
I therefore, Scot and Briton, am elate
To think that from Sir Walter's golden mouth
Dryden's career received the fit account.

XII--Carlyle (At Ecclefechan)

The ploughman in the loamy furrow sings,
The sailor whistles as he reefs the sail,
Blithe is the smith as the blows fall like hail
From his huge hammer, and the stithy rings.
Work is the sole and sovereign balm that brings
Peace to the torpid soul when doubts assail,
And sickening pleasures are of no avail
To lull the torture of affliction's stings.
Give me the work I love, the work I feel
God in His Heaven has willed that I should do,
And you may offer the whole commonweal,
Lands, mansions, jewels, gold, and temples too,
Vainly to me. By strenuous work alone
Man mounts on Jacob's ladder to God's throne.


Suggested by a copy of his poems in a West Highland bookcase

'Twas but a passing visit that he paid
To the gross air of earth, this mystic seer,
The tyrannies of sense were too severe
For one of clay more fine than Adam's made.
The inhumanity of man, the trade
Of coining gold from the serf's groan and tear,
The galling fetters of religious fear,
And vain ecclesiastic masquerade
Tortured his gentle soul, and made his life
One bitter struggle with the powers that be:
Yet not in vain he lived; his manful strife
With all the deadening despotisms we see
Will ring along the centuries, until
Good has her final triumph over ill.

XIV--Picture in an Inn

A wood of pines through which the setting sun
Pours from the western sky a parting flame,
Beside the shore, a church called by the name
Of some old saint whose pious race was run
Long ere schismatic Luther had begun
To work the Pope and his disciples shame.
In earnest-seeming talk, a knight and dame
Sit in a painted galley, rowed by one
Whose back is to the setting orb of day.
The soldier and his mate, their faces lit
With all love's animation and the ray
Of the down-lapsing globe of crimson, sit
Together in the gilded vessel's prow,
And there will sit for evermore, as now.

XV--Rain-Storm at Loch Awe

The topmost mountain-snows are melting fast,
See, how the swollen waters hurry down
In perpendicular runnels from the crown
Of every wreathéd hill. The train has past
Beside a dark stream into which are cast
A hundred huddling rills whose foam is brown
With pilfered soil. No dweller in a town
Ever beheld such manifold and vast
Torrents of roaring water. Each small isle
Spaced on the loch, glooms through the hanging haze
Like a dream-picture, and for many a mile
Beneath those clouds that lean upon the braes
Encompassing Loch Awe, the watery plain
Is pricked with million lances of the rain.


The mist, retreating, gems the leaves with dew,
Soft blows the breeze along the fragrant meads,
A little brawling burn runs through the reeds
And ripples away under the cloudless blue.
I never saw the world so fair to view,
For Spring has riven old Winter's funeral weeds
And given new sap and vigour to the seeds
That lay inanimate the cold months through.
Old man! with jaded limbs and wrinkled brow,
That walkest feebly in this lenient sun
Like a day-dream, thy life is winter now.
But life and death in ceaseless cycles run,
And tireless Time and Heaven have in store
For thee a myriad resurrections more.

XVII--General Wade

Houses are fewer here than milestones are:
We stand a thousand feet aloft in air
Upon a bouldered hillside stern and bare,
Down which the roadway serpentines afar.
There are no clouds in the wide blue to mar
The passage of the sun's imperial glare
Over a dreary-stretching landscape, where
Rough winds hold riot all the calendar.
Who that has footed o'er these firm-knit paths
But lauds the men whose strenuous axe and spade
Drove roads through the wild glens and hilly straths
Under the generalship of tireless Wade!
On the safe tracks behind them, commerce came
The unruly spirit of the Celt to tame.

XVIII--The Sound Of Raasay in December

A snowy gust is whirling down the strait,
Raasay is gleaming ghostly to the sight,
And, robed in lawn, from sea to topmost height
Skye and her lordly mountains stand in state.
Ever from heaven falls the silent weight
Of wavering flakes that dim the stars of night.
Our gallant little boat with all the might
Of the wild-hissing surges holds debate,
Plunging and struggling, till at last we see
A spacious haven, sudden and serene
And, high aloft, the twinkle of Portree.
At once the winds are hushed, the moon is seen
To free her face from cloudy drift, and fill
With silver light the clefts of Essie Hill.

XIX--Les Neiges D'antan


Where is Macfee, that valiant preacher,
  Gifted with voice, so harsh and loud,
Aye, louder and harsher than any screecher
  Of birds that sail on the black storm-cloud?
  And his beadle John, with back so bowed,
Where is he that had never a peer?
  Is he too rolled in his mortal shroud?
But where are the snows of yester-year?


Donald the Gay, that steered his steamer
  Many a year through the Sound of Mull,
He that was never a Celtic dreamer,
  But a captain of captains masterful:
  O Death, thou madest the world more dull
When you nailed him down in his narrow bier,
  And sent his ghost into Charon's hull;
But where are the snows of yester-year?


Duncan, the bard of rocky Staffin,
  Away in the north of rainy Skye:
Has he given over his rimes and daffin',
  In the mould of the bleak kirkyard to lie?
  His cot was built where the sea-gulls fly,
And his misty isle to his soul was dear;
  Ere his song is finished, the bard must die;
But where are the snows of yester-year?


And Dougal, who carried King Edward's mails
  Every day o'er the moor and heather,
Scorning the chill of the winter gales,
  And the ten-mile walk in the sultry weather:
  Has he too come to the end of his tether
And gone to the ghosts with all his gear,
  His whistle, his satchel and strap of leather?
But where are the snows of yester-year?


Prince, they have gone from the regions that knew them,
  Gone at the summons that none can resist,
Praise and every honour be to them,
  They did their best and they will be missed.
  We, too, shall soon be erased from the list
Of workers below in this mortal sphere,
  And be no more to those that exist
Than the vanished snows of yester-year.

XX--The Islands of the Ness

A fairyland of trees and leafy bowers
Where one may sit and dream the hours away,
Or 'mid the devious walks and alleys stray,
While perfume rises from a world of flowers,
The girdling river, swollen with upland showers,
Sends rippling round to every creek and bay
The vagrant branches of his water-way;
Then gathering up his current's parted powers,
Swiftly-majestic in a broadening bed,
He glistens on by many a chiming spire,
And past the castle's pennoned turrets red,
Till he attain the goal of his desire,
And into the salt sea exulting throws
His subsidy of rains and melted snows.

XXI--American Tourist Loquitur (At Berriedale, Caithness)

If I had wealth like Vanderbilt
  Or some such millionaire,
I'd live in Scotland, don a kilt,
And pay to prove my forbears spilt
  Their blood in forays there.

I'd buy a picturesque estate
  Beside the ocean's flow,
With knolls of heather at my gate,
And pine-clad hills to dominate,
  The ferny dells below.

I'd be a father to the folk
  That laboured on the soil,
With old and young I'd crack my joke,
Drink with them in their thirst, and smoke
  The pipe that lightens toil.

For hens I'd have a special run,
  For ducks a special pool,
My calves should frolic in the sun,
My sheep should be surpassed by none
  Whose backs are clothed with wool.

Although I'm not a Walton quite,
  Betweenwhiles I should try
To lure the finny tribe to bite
(At the right time, in the right light,)
  My simulated fly.

When winter heaped his rattling hail
  High on the window sill,
With pipe and wassail, rime and tale,
I'd never miss the nightingale
  Or cuckoo on the hill.

Nay, musing by the ingle-lowe
  With summer in my brain,
I'd cloth with leaves the frozen bough
And all the ice-bound brooks endow
  With tinkling life again.

Berriedale, which moved the American to commemorative song, is on the Caithness shore, and there the Duke of Portland has one of his numerous residences. The Duke's seat is high up on the hills and behind it is a mountain of grim aspect which serves for a deer-forest. At Berriedale, the road traversed by the coach is simply appalling: boards marked Dangerous forewarn all wheel-men that risks cannot be taken with impunity. An honest descent can be easily coped with, but here the road to the glen is not merely steep, it is as lacking in straightforwardness as the links of Forth. Once down at the level of the village, the breeze no longer blows fresh and chilly, but subsides into a quiet air, grateful with the odour of flowers. Passengers are requested to walk up the corresponding hill to a level equal to the height of the road before the interruption of the terrible Berriedale chasm. When the ascent is reached, one has a view of unsurpassed splendour. The wooded Wye, which Wordsworth sang so rapturously and which he saw with his mind's eye in the dinsome town, has no landscape to compare in grandeur and beauty with the country round Berriedale, viewed from this eminence. Hills of richest green, diversified with purple heather; a back-ground of wild bog and mountain; blue sea; and great banks of cloud shepherded over the heights by the mighty winds.

XXII--The Miners

The afternoon is cool and calm,
Near by flashes the mighty sea,
Inland rise green, dewy hills,
Crowned with eye-bewitching trees.

Suddenly the eye is amazed and terrified,
A hideous procession sordid and grimy
Of men and boys, slaves of the coal-pit,
Is seen on the road, shaming the daylight.

All the day long they work in the darkness,
Far from the songs of the birds and the sunshine,
Now they return to their sordid villages,
Ill-smelling rows of comfortless cottages.

The rich and dainty ladies of fashion
Stand aloof from these swart coal-hewers,
Are ready to swoon as the air is poisoned
With odours of subterranean foulness.

Coarse of look, and of speech far coarser!
Laughter loud with no merriment in it!
No more soul than the beasts that perish!
These are the men despised for their toiling.

XXIII--In a Country Graveyard

Suggested by a French poem of Monsieur Desessarts, entitled Se Survivre.

Man dreads the tomb, but dreads oblivion more;
He fears, when death has loosed the load of years,
His name shall cease to sound in mortal ears,
And, in the dusty darkness, all be o'er.
Some o'er the scrolls of ample science pore,
Tome after tome the nimble authors write,
And gain a meed of glory: soon the night
Comes: the author with his laurel disappears,
The painting fades, the marble busts decay,
The kingly structures fall in ruin down,
Devouring Time consumes the artist's prize,
The centuries like lightning pass away,
Or hurrying billows: emperor and clown
Sink with the myriads in impartial clay.

XXIV--No Place like Home

Where'er these wandering footsteps lead me to,
Peak-dominated glen, hill where the sheep
Graze in the sun, mountains that ever keep
A solemn guard o'er lakes profound and blue,
Or undulating tracts of treeless view;
No matter if the rain and whirlwind sweep
The landscape, or the gladdening sunshine peep
Through muffled vapours that the winds undo;
Let it be night speckled with myriad fires,
Clear dawn, hot noon, or cool of dying day;
Be it in cities with their chiming spires,
Or country fields with fragrant ricks of hay;
Ever the voices of my hearth I hear,
And muse on those to me for ever dear.


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