Author Archives: Luca Guariento

18th Century Scottish Studies 31st Annual Conference, Kelvin Hall, Argyle St, University of Glasgow. 17th – 21st July 2018

Our project panel will be held on Saturday 21st July, 10.45-12.15.

Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant’s Scottish Tours and Networks

Chair: Gerry Carruthers (Glasgow)
Nigel Leask (Glasgow), ‘Ossianic Networks: Pennant, Dr Johnson, and Donald MacQueen of Kilmuir’
Alex Deans (Glasgow), ‘Authority, Locality and History in Thomas Pennant’s Scottish Networks’
Kirsty McHugh (U. of Wales/NLS), ‘In the Footsteps of Pennant and Johnson: Reverend James Bailey’s 1787 Highland Tour’

 

June 14th 1726, Thomas Pennant’s Birthday

(Downing Hall by Moses Griffith, National Library of Wales, on Wikimedia Commons)

“To prevent all disputes about the place and time of my birth, be it known that I was born on June 14th, 1726, old style, in the room now called the Yellow Room; that the celebrated Mrs Clayton, of Shrewsbury, ushered me into the world, and delivered me to Miss Jenny Parry, of Merton, in the parish; who to her dying day never failed telling me. ‘Ah, you rogue! I remember you when you had not a shirt to your back’”.

Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell (1796)

To see where Pennant spent his birthday in 1772 go to:

http://curioustravellers.ac.uk/map/#zoom=10&lat=55.8947&lon=-4.0344&point=55.86424,-4.25181

Curious Travellers: Update and Events 2018

 

Moses Griffith, Penmaen Bach from Penmaen Mawr Road: from the extra-illustrated Tours in Wales
[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Penmaenbach_from_Penmaen_Mawr_road.jpg]

Preparing texts

The research team has been focused for the last few months on preparing selections of letters and tours for online publication. We are planning to launch the first batch of these at a conference to be held this November in the Linnaean Society in London (details below). Getting texts ready for digital publication has proved to be quite a challenge, involving technical aspects (such as tagging names) that go well beyond the usual editorial tasks. But this will make it possible to search the material in many different ways: it should lead to some interesting new angles on Pennant’s correspondence, and will help us to understand how later writers and travellers used his work.  We are, as ever, hugely grateful to our technical team, Luca Guariento and Vivien Williams, for having made this complex process as easy as possible for us.

Exhibition and Events October-December 2018  

The project is in its final year of funding, and we plan to celebrate four very busy years with a series of events in London, centred on a three-month exhibition to be held in the wonderful setting of the Dr Johnson House Museum.  Working with Curator Celine Luppo McDaid, we will explore the famous Highland tour made by Johnson and Boswell in 1775 and its relation to Pennant’s own tours. The letters and tour diaries of Hester Piozzi – Johnson’s close friend and Pennant’s neighbour and relation – will also be included.  Various events are planned during the course of the exhibition: please note the following dates!

4 October: Exhibition Opens: Curious Travellers: Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour

30 October: Dr Mary-Ann Constantine will give a lecture to the Cymreigyddion Society

14 November (evening event): Professor Murray Pittock and Professor Nigel Leask will give talks on Johnson and Pennant.

15 November: Day conference and launch of digital texts in the Linnaean Society, Burlington House

14 December (date to be confirmed): An evening of poetry and music at the Dr Johnson House with Scottish and Welsh writers.

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Johnson#/media/File:Samuel_Johnson_by_Joshua_Reynolds.jpg]

Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1820

In collaboration with
National Library of Wales

Exhibition: 5-9 February 2018, Summers Room

Lunchtime talk: 1pm, 7 February 2018, the Drwm.

Mary-Ann Constantine will explore the highlights of a four-year project on the Tours of Thomas Pennant (1726–1798) and those who followed in his footsteps. A selection of Pennant’s books and manuscripts will be on display throughout the week in the Library’s Summers Room.

Event held in English

Free admission with ticket

Thomas Pennant in Ireland, 1754

Mary-Ann Constantine

Detail from Samuel and Nathan Buck’s South View of Holyhead Harbour 1742 (National Library of Wales)

In 1754 Thomas Pennant, aged 28, heir to but not yet master of the estate at Downing, set off on a Tour of Ireland. The journal he kept of his travels, which would last from late June to late September and take him right around the island, is a sparse enough document: two small notebooks recording journeys between towns and villages, the nature of the country he rode through (usually on horseback) and–crucially–the people he met and stayed with. In his Literary Life written some 40 years later he would explain, with typical dry humour, why this tour never made it into print:

Such was the conviviality of the country, that my journal proved as maigre as my entertainment was gras, so it never was a dish fit to be offered to the public.

Maigre as it is, this account is thrilling to us now as an early example of the kind of raw, jotted text which Pennant subsequently worked up into his published tours; texts which, alas, do not survive (or exist only fragmentarily) for his Scottish and Welsh tours. As a document it is often enigmatic, frustrating, or impossible to decode: but those jotted notes bring us much closer to his actual experience of places and events as they happened than any of his published works. Besides the notebook, a handful of letters from Pennant survive from this summer, written to his aunt Elizabeth, and they provide valuable further insights.

‘Holyhead’ by Moses Griffith, from Thomas Pennant’s Extra Illustrated Tours in Wales, National Library of Wales. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

The tour reveals Pennant’s usual wide-ranging curiosity, beginning with a productive morning’s botanizing with William Morris at Holyhead. Here he finds an anemone

displaying various beautyfull branches, always expanded. it readily seized on any bit of fish offered it and made use of those branches to convey it to its mouth; these branches seemed furnished with small nervous papillae which adhered strongly to my finger.

This possibly marks the first meeting of two men who would become excellent friends: William Morris (1705-63) would write to his brothers of how proud he was ‘of such an ingenious worthy man’s friendship’. The late June crossing to Ireland was not easy: ‘one part of the time a rolling sea and no wind. When off the Hill of Howth an hard gale from land drove us several leagues North’ – and it was Friday morning before they reached Dublin, where he spent several days seeing the sights, including the College and Museum (‘ill furnished’ but with two British axe heads that he rather liked). He then proceeded north and toured Ireland anti-clockwise, taking in a wide range of places from Ballycastle in the far north to Cork in the south.

Pennant’s Irish Itinerary reconstructed from the journal. With thanks to David Parsons.

The Curious Travellers project intends to publish the Irish Tour online, and hopes to have a ‘raw’ unedited text transcribed and available to read before long. My recent experience of introducing the tour at the Eighteenth Century Society of Ireland’s annual conference (Dublin, 2017) made it clear that there is a wealth of existing expertise upon which we could draw in order to put a little more flesh on the bones of this account. Pennant had letters of introduction to gentry houses the length and breadth of the island, many of them important estates undergoing mid-century improvements to their land, houses and gardens: he also visited coalmines and linen manufactures, barracks and harbours, churches and castles. Antiquities and natural phenomena are noted as points of interest, but it is clear that improvement was the main focus of this tour. In a letter to his aunt he compares the landscaping projects of the Annesleys of Castlewhellan to the efforts of Colonel Hugh Boyd at Ballycastle:

The country in these parts owes as much to this good man’s industry, as that about Mr Annesley’s (as mentioned in my last) will soon experience from the indefatigable pains of the latter. The difference consists only in this, Mr Annesley is improving his Land, and Mr Boyde is attempting to form a flourishing colliery and a secure Port. The former he has in some measure succeeded in; but the latter seems still in an uncertain state. A turbulent sea, and a destructive insect has done vast damage, a small grub scarce the 8th part of an inch in length having in five years space utterly destroyed part of the finest oake he had employed in his Pier.

One of the most significant encounters Pennant had was in Kerry, where he spent a week as the guest of Thomas Browne, fourth Viscount Kenmare, at his newly redesigned house in Killarney. Indeed, the arrival of one Thomas, born 1726, sometimes considered the ‘father of Cambrian Tourism’, at the home of another, born the same year, sometimes considered the ‘father of Irish Tourism’, is a thoroughly gratifying historical coincidence. Pennant would ‘Lye at Lord Kenmares’ for a whole week, riding out to see castles and walks, copper mines and plantations, visiting his lordship’s linen manufacture, witnessing an ‘Irish Papist funeral’ (a version of which would later resurface in the 1769 Tour in Scotland) and of course visiting the Lakes of Killarney. Here, as he told his aunt, he was treated to ‘the Beauties of the celebrated Lough Lene’:

These entertained my Eyes; but that was not the only sense that was pleased; for my Hearing had its share from the surprizing Echo from the mountains: to enjoy this in the greatest perfection his Ld brought on the water two French horns, a fife, a drum and Two swivel guns: every note was returned to the former, but when the Latter were discharged the loudest claps of Thunder I ever heard were unequal to the sound returned.

Killarney, by Alphonse Dousseau, Souvenirs pittoresques (1830s). Source: National Library of Wales.

As William Williams and Luke Gibbons have shown, the Killarney Lake Experience has by now become a kind of locus classicus in the history of Irish tourism; it seems both apt and amusing that Pennant should have taken part in this ‘tourist ritual’ during its earliest stages.

There is much to be learned from this hastily-jotted journal and the few accompanying letters, not only about Pennant himself as a young man on his first major journey from home, but about the ways in which his experience of Ireland and Irish society (in all its political and cultural complexity) might have shaped his responses to his Scottish tours, undertaken some fifteen years later. It meshes Pennant’s Tours still further into those ‘four nations’ or ‘archipelagic’ conversations which have contributed so much to our understanding of the eighteenth century in these islands. Some of the people he met and the places he visited are well-known, but researchers of C18th Ireland –academics, local historians, genealogists–will certainly be able to shed light on more obscure details. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help; all contributors will be acknowledged in our final edited version. We look forward to working closely with colleagues in Ireland to unpick some of the more elusive events and encounters hidden between its scrawled lines.

Sources and further reading:

Thomas Pennant, The Literary Life of the Late Thomas Pennant Esquire. By Himself. (London, 1793)

Warwickhire County Record Office, Thomas Pennant Archives, CR 2017/TP18/1-2 & CR2017/TP125 1-4

William Williams, Creating Irish Tourism: The First Century, 1750-1850. Anthem Studies in Travel (London, Anthem Press, 2011)

Luke Gibbons, ‘Topographies of Terror: Killarney and the Politics of the Sublime’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 95.1 (Winter, 1996) 23-45

A new itinerary added to the map

We’re excited to announce the addition of a new itinerary to our map viewer: Samuel Johnson and James Boswell’s 1773 tour to the Hebrides. This will allow us to visualize the ways in which these influential tours of Scotland overlapped and diverged, and of course, see how they line up next to a selection of historical maps provided by the NLS. Pennant and Johnson might have been less happy to see their travels presented side by side. Annoyed by a ‘fling’ at him in Johnson’s Tour, and perhaps by the competition it represented to his own Voyage to the Hebrides, Pennant asked his correspondent George Paton to look out for ‘any strictures’ on Johnson in the press, and wrote that he would not acknowledge Johnson in his own work: ‘for really he is not worth notice.’ Nonetheless, we hope that that this will be the first of several Curious Travellers crossovers between Pennant and Johnson, as we look at the impact they had upon later tourists as well as each other.

A fleeting glimpse of C19th ephemeral texts

Kirsty McHugh, Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies

In analysing the composition of manuscript travel journals I have become particularly interested in the influence of novels, guidebooks and other literature on how tourists chronicle their travel experiences.

Two particular travellers, who made tours of Scotland and Wales in the Romantic period, Jonathan Gray (1779-1837, attorney from York) and Anne Lister (1791-1841, heiress to the Shibden Hall estate near Halifax) have left us rich sources for this studying this aspect of tour writing.

Todd’s bookshop in Stonegate, York, which Jonathan Gray is known to have frequented. Painted by Henry Cave in 1797. Image in public domain, from York Museums Trust website.

Publications and other print items associated with tourism were often produced for a very specific purpose and tourists’ interactions with them might be brief. We know Anne Lister retained the copy of Nicholson’s Cambrian Travellers Guide she purchased on her 1822 tour of Wales (it is listed in the auction catalogue of the Shibden Hall Library), however we do not know if she kept her copy of The Scottish Tourist & Itinerary. Since the information contained in guidebooks would quite quickly date their long-term value was limited. In her diary Anne records borrowing a guide to St Andrews when she visits the town – at 5 shillings the book is apparently too pricey for local booksellers to stock.

The keeper of the ruins … lent us the “Delineations of St Andrews” by James Grierson M.D. M.W.S. Cupar, 1823, 1 volume, 12o pp 224 price 5/ thought too dear by the booksellers there who refuse to buy so as to be obliged to sell it at this price & the publisher refuses it at less so there is difficultly about getting the work. (28 June 1828)

‘Ephemera’ such as broadsheets, posters and leaflets were by nature intended to be used and then thrown away. The owners of tourist sites often produced guides to their attractions – some of these might be small booklets, others simply a single sheet of paper. Anne Lister records in her diary how at St Winifred’s Well ‘a woman there (at the well) – gave each of us a glass of water & a printed sheet of paper account of the spring for which I gave her 6d & she certainly was not satisfied.’ (25 July 1822)

Examples of early 19th-century broadsheets similar to those Anne and her aunt would have received. Reproduced courtesy of Flintshire Archives (D-DM/955/2/22 & PR/A/4)

On tour in Wales a few years earlier Jonathan Gray took an interest in a poem which he found pasted on their bedroom door at the inn at Beddgert. He transcribed it into his journal and noted:

It is in print, & dated the 11 Augt 1800. It is, therefore, new & I am the first lucky journalist who had laid hold on it to swell & adorn his page. Warner [author of Walks Through Wales] would have bounced with rapture at the sight of it, but to him the sight has been denied. What is more remarkable, it has only been here since yesterday morning. A lady who called yesterday, a friend of the author’s pasted it up, & we are the first who have seen it. We enquired of our Snowdon guide who confirms the assertion, that the tradition of the greyhound is current in this neighbourhood. He says that country people shew a stone which they believe to be the tomb of Gêlert.’ (26 August 1800)

Transcription of the poem in Jonathan Gray’s travel journal (GRF/6/3). Reproduced courtesy of York Explore Library & Archives

A copy of Beth- Gêlert or the Grave of the Greyhound by William Robert Spencer (4pp, 4°). Note the date – this is the same edition of the copy encountered by Gray. Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Wales.

Less direct encounters with everyday texts are also noted by Jonathan Gray and Anne Lister in their journals, suggesting they were particularly alert to printed material. For Anne Lister posters could provide useful information on the locality. At Glasgow, she derives information about the depth of the River Clyde from a notice posted on the premises of the humane society (9 June 1828). (The Society was founded in 1790 and still exists today to promote water safety).

Her attitude to the printed matter she encounters on tour is in line with her attitude towards record-keeping and education – her diaries are packed full of all sorts of information about her life and show she read widely and wished to attain a rich and full education in classical literature, mathematics and languages. Jonathan notes texts which strike him as unusual in some way. At Kenmore he considers the notice on a church door to be of interest because it is written in Erse (i.e. Gaelic). Tradesmen’s adverts and signboards also amuse him.

At Alnwick, on their way north, he writes:

There are two gate ways to this town, one of them very handsome with a tower & a crown at the top similar to that at St. Nicholas’, Newcastle. We were struck with a board over the door – “Work of all kinds done by Wm Nixon.”

At Glasgow, he notes:

The shops have in general the articles of their trade painted on the top of the shop door. The trades of the people in some places described in a manner unintelligible to Englishmen. One man is a change keeper & horse seller.

Perhaps, the detail that I find most intriguing, however, is his comment that at Moffat the playbills are handwritten – ‘as at Inverary they have no printing office, & the bills are manuscript.’

I would be fascinated to know whether any such playbills still survive. I imagine that very few do because the survival of printed ephemera probably relies largely on printers’ archives. The only example from this period I could find online is an amateur production held aboard the British prison ship, the Crown, held by the National Maritime Museum. For an image of this handwritten poster see this article in the journal of comparative literature Inquire.

Jonathan’s comments on signs and posters are indicative of the eclectic and light-hearted tone of his tour journals. Travel writing often blended history, antiquarianism, aesthetics, and anthropology but Gray’s omnivorous attitude to travel writing also seems to reflect his own interests. Later in life he would take an active role in local cultural and scientific institutions such as the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and develop interests in architecture, astronomy, and music. He was also involved in the establishment of the Yorkshire Gazette.

Travel writing has always had a role in providing evidence of material culture (such as costume, domestic interiors, and traditions). Much of my research questions whether travelogues always reflect the author’s on-the-spot observations. The insights into the consumption of print in Gray and Lister’s journals, however, have made me think again about how travelogues are valuable both for the information they contain and what they reveal about the preoccupations of individual travellers and the wider culture to which they belong. I am inclined to think Jonathan Gray and Anne Lister’s comments are unusual and linked to their personalities and particular motivations for travel. However, I would be interested to hear from other researchers who have found similar attention to print culture in pieces of travel writing which they have studied.

Go to Kirsty’s personal page.

Links/further reading

In Search of Dr John Stuart’s Luss: Hog-backs, Dawn Redwoods, and Gaelic Bibles

Nigel Leask

Saturday 25th March, it’s a cold but beautiful bright morning. Evelyn and Flora are off to see the Tove Janssen exhibition in London (my daughter’s 17th birthday treat) so I am home alone with Max the cat. Its been an extraordinary heavy week, the final teaching sessions of the semester and a day in Edinburgh conducting a mock interview and talking to students from the Scottish Graduate School about applying for post-doctoral fellowships. Have been sleeping badly, end of semester exhaustion, so decide to head out to Loch Lomond and do something different with the day. My plan is to follow the tracks of Dr John Stuart of Luss (1743-1821), Pennant’s travelling companion on his second, 1772 tour of Scotland, Highland minister and co-translator of the first Scottish Gaelic Bible: also (perhaps less well known) he was a Linnaean botanist of some distinction.

Dr John Stuart of Luss – Unsigned portrait of John Stuart appearing in Pennant’s Extra-Illustrated Tours in Scotland, published with special permission from the National Library of Wales

As well as his Gaelic scholarship, Stuart contributed the entry on the ‘Parish of Luss’ to Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, 1793-99, so much of what we know about the 18th century village is derived from his pen, as well as from the many travellers who passed through Luss on the long or short tour of Scotland. Alex Deans is currently transcribing Stuart’s letters to Pennant from Warwick County Archives, so the time is ripe for us to do some more research on his life and works.

Traffic is still light as I drive out on the A82 towards Dumbarton, but I know that will soon change, and in fact on the way home at the end of the day I get stuck in heavy traffic between Arden and Balloch – the road (following the course of Gen. Caulfield’s military road between Dumbarton and Inveraray, constructed 1748-53) picks up all the travellers from Loch Fyne and Oban, as well as vehicles plying the Crianlarich-Fort William route.  But instead of taking the fast dual carriageway between Dumbarton and Balloch, I decide first to check out another eighteenth century literary connection. I turn off through Renton and Alexandra in the Vale of Leven, through which the river Leven empties out Loch Lomond’s waters into the Clyde estuary at Dumbarton. Even on a beautiful day like this, its obvious that the village of Renton suffers badly from poverty, unemployment and social deprivation, although it is a lot better than I remember it twenty years ago. One of Scotland’s earliest industrial landscapes, comprising bleach fields, print works and cotton mills, eighteenth century travellers all commented on how neat and orderly it all was. Renton can also boast one of the first working class libraries in Britain, with its own reading and discussion club. Thomas Pennant describes the Vale of Leven (on his 1769 tour) as ‘unspeakably beautifull, very fertile, and finely watered by the great and rapid river Levin…there is scarcely a spot on its banks but what is decorated with bleacheries, plantations, and villas’. (Tour in Scotland, 1769, p. 226)

Smollet Monument, Renton

I don’t think anyone would reach for the words ‘unspeakably beautiful’ to describe modern Renton, but my eye is caught by a handsome neoclassical pillar topped with a funerary urn beside the war memorial, immediately on the left hand side of the main road.

It’s a monument to the novelist Tobias Smollett, born nearby and educated in Glasgow before heading south as a physician, editor and novelist, who later immortalized his birthplace in the ‘Ode to Leven Water’, and in his final novel, Humphry Clinker. Johnson and Boswell stayed with the novelist’s cousin ‘Commissary Smollett’ at Cameron House on 27th Oct 1773, where Smollett consulted Johnson on the Latin inscription he planned to place on the monument that he had erected near the banks of the Leven following the novelist’s death in Livorno in 1771. According to Boswell, Johnson ‘greatly improved it by several additions and variations’. (Black, p. 429) This failed to impress Coleridge, however, when he translated it for the benefit of Dorothy Wordsworth in 1803: ‘The Latin is miserably bad – as Coleridge said, such as poor Smollett, who was an excellent scholar, would have been ashamed of’. (Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, p. 81)

Smollet inscription

Unfortunately this fine monument to one of Scotland’s greatest writers isn’t as well known as it deserves, partly because it is no longer situated on the ‘high road’ to Dumbarton, as it was before the construction of the dual carriageway bypass.

Driving on past the huge Vale of Leven hospital, I see the gleaming snow covered peak of Ben Lomond towering over the urban scene, looking uncanny in the bright Spring sunshine – I remember Pennant’s description of the mountain as being ‘like Saul amidst his companions, overtop[ping] the rest’. (Tour 1769, p. 224) Rejoining the fast growing stream of Saturday tourist traffic heading for the hills and lochs at Balloch roundabout on this beautiful spring day, I make rapid progress to Luss, where Dr Stuart was minister for 44 years, and managed to find a parking space in the car park of one of Scotland’s most popular tourist spots, often called the ‘gateway to the Highlands’.

View from Luss

It’s a very pretty place, with breathtaking views over the Loch and its wooded islands, but maybe Ian Crichton Smith summed it up well when he described twentieth century Luss as ‘a picture of a village rather than a true village’. It’s certainly changed somewhat from Dorothy Wordsworth’s 1803 description as ‘a cluster of thatched houses among trees, with a large chapel in the midst of them’, although by then the village already boasted a slate quarry and small cotton mill. (Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, p. 84) It’s nice to see at least five Glaswegian Asian families warming up their barbecues on the sandy beach though, ready for a picnic of spicy delights in the sunshine.

I walk down towards the church, and cross the bridge to the Glebe. The water is transparent, and I can see schisteous pebbles gleaming on the shallow riverbed in the bright light. Luss Water runs through shady woods into the loch, and bonfire smoke drifts through the alder trees, while the mountains looming behind the village still show patches of white snow, despite the gathering warmth of the midday sun. The church faces me, not the building that Dr Stuart would have known, but a handsome Victorian structure erected in 1875 by Sir James Colquhoun of Luss to commemorate the tragic drowning of his father and four of his men when their boat was overturned in a winter storm.

Luss church

The architecture of the kirk’s roof evokes the keel of the laird’s empty upturned boat, a moving memorial to a terrible accident. But the current church was built on the site of the earlier eighteenth century church (built in 1771 on the site of the pre-reformation one, and therefore a new construction when Dr John Stuart became minister in 1777) which, by all accounts, and the evidence of a single surviving photograph, was itself a fine building, in the austere 18th century neoclassical style. Because the kirk door was locked, I strolled around the graveyard, literally stumbled over another famous monument inspired by an upturned boat, this time a Viking hog-back sarcophagus,

Viking Hog-back

dating from the time of the Norse occupation of the Earldom of Lennox, which ended with Vikings’ defeat by the Scottish king at Largs in 1263. It’s curious that Pennant, who visited Luss in 1769 (without John Stuart on this first visit, unfortunately) and commented on some of the other antiquities, didn’t mention this one, although he did describe a similar hog-back monuments at the ‘Giant’s Grave’ in St Andrew’s Church, at Penrith in England, as well as an illustrative plate. Dr John Stuart, writing in the Statistical Account, remark that ‘in the [Luss] church-yard [are] some stone coffins of considerable antiquity’, although he doesn’t seem to be specifically alluding to the hog-back here.

I hadn’t had time to do much homework for my John Stuart tour, but it turned out to be one of those lucky days. In the graveyard I quickly located Stuart’s handsome gravestone,

Stuart’s grave

bearing the inscription ‘born at Killin in 1743 and successively minister of Arrochar, Weem, and Luss, whose Genuine Piety and Amiable Temper endeared him to his Family and his Flock’. It also records his greatest achievement, the first translation of ‘the Holy Scriptures into his native language’ of Gaelic. Crossing the road, I saw what looked like the manse, a handsome square building commanding a fantastic view over Loch Lomond, and speculated that this was the house (or its site) in which Stuart had lived. I recalled that he complained in the Statistical Account that although ‘the church is uncommonly good…the manse was built in 1740, is insufficient, and at present in need of repair’. (SAS ‘Luss’, p. 265)

 

Manse at Luss

The building before me, even if it looks a bit unlived in (Luss has no resident minister), showed signs of having been extensively refurbished and enlarged since Stuart’s time, probably by the Victorians, if the architecture is anything to go by.

Next door was the Luss Glass Studio, so entering, I asked the lady at the counter if the adjacent building was in fact the old manse. She told me that my guess was correct, and I explained my interest in Luss’s 18th century minister, Dr. John Stuart. I had really struck lucky – she introduced herself as Janine Smith, a stained glass artist who runs the studio, and who is also well versed in the history of the village community of which she has been a member for many years. Janine showed me into the adjacent Luss Pilgrimage Centre, which contains an informative display of the history of Luss.

It includes a panel dedicated to Stuart and the work of the Stuarts father and son in producing the first Scottish Gaelic Bible (John’s father, Dr James Stuart of Killin, translated the New Testament, which was published in 1767).

Gaelic Testament

Janine was brought up a Gaelic speaker on Tiree before moving to the mainland, and so Stuart’s historical importance for Scottish Gaelic is of great concern to her. Finding that we shared views about Scottish history and culture (as well as indyref 2!) we agreed that too much hot air had been dedicated to warlords like Wallace and Bruce, and not enough to quieter, but nonetheless important historical Scots like John Stuart, a proud Gaelic speaker and a scholar of international importance. Stuart and his father struggled against the tide of ignorance and prejudice that did so much damage to the Gaelic language in the 19th and 20th centuries, and which is only now beginning to be turned back in the first welcome signs of a language revival.

Janine kindly offered to show me the interior of Luss kirk, and closing the studio for a few minutes, she took me across the road with the keys. The interior was stunning, not least as the bright sunshine showed up the magnificent stained glass to perfection, as she was quick to point out to me. I admired the three ancient Christian relics held in the church, memorials of the Celtic missionary, St Kessog, born in Ireland around 460AD, and thought to have arrived here in 510, bringing the Christian message, before his martyrdom at Bandry Bay, a mile or so south of Luss. The three relics are a stone baptismal font, a fine life-sized statue of St Kessog (dressed anachronistically in the robes and mitre of a medieval bishop, and what looks very like a false nose!),

and a powerful ‘primitive’ carved head of the saint in the style of early Celtic sculpture.

These monuments were reputedly removed from the old church by local people at the time of the Reformation and buried for safe keeping at the cairn-na-Cheasoig (St Kessog’s Cairn) on the loch side near Bandry, the site of his martyrdom.

There’s a nice eighteenth century connection, though – two hundred years later, in the late 1740’s, the relics were excavated by a squad of soldiers from Colonel Lascelles regiment who were constructing the military road from Dumbarton to Inveraray, when they opened up the cairn that was blocking the route of the planned road. They must have left much of the cairn intact, though, as Pennant writes ‘near the side of the lake, about a mile or two farther, is a great heap of stones in memory of St. Mac-Kessog, Bishop and Confessor, who suffered martyrdom there AD 520, and was buried in Comstraddan church’. (Tour 1769, p. 226) This jogged my memory, and I recalled a fascinating paper given by Prof Thomas Clancy of Glasgow’s Celtic Department at the first Thomas Pennant Workshop in 2013, describing the local important of St Kessog’s Cairn, and its disappearance from modern maps. I can’t believe that these striking relics of this important Celtic Saint are so little known in modern Scotland – I grew up in Strathblane, in adjacent Stirlingshire (where the local Catholic Church is called ‘St Kessog’s’, and there is also a ‘St Kessog’s Well’), but was completely unaware of their existence here in Luss, a village that I have visited many times since boyhood.

Blinking in the sunlight as we exited the dark church, Janine took me across to the manse, and showed me into the garden. This extensive space, like the manse now a bit neglected, must have been where John Stuart exercised his other great passion – botany.

Manse Garden

Visiting Luss in the last years of the 18th century, the naturalist and traveller Dr Thomas Garnett (lecturer in Chemistry in Glasgow’s Andersonian Institute, the ancestor of Strathclyde University) described the garden in its heyday:

‘after breakfast we repaired to the manse, to visit Dr STUART, the minister, a man of great taste, and learning; he received us very politely, and shewed us his garden, which contains a variety of scarce plants, particularly British alpines, brought by himself from their native mountains. I found here most of the scarce plants which grow upon Benlomond and Benevis, as well as in the wilds of the Hebrides, but being removed into a milder climate, they flourish much more luxuriantly. Mr STUART has for some time been engaged in translating the Bible into Gaelic. (Thomas Garnett, Observations on a Tour through the Highlands, 2 vols, (London 1800), I, 37.)

Appropriately enough, a Chinese ‘Dawn Redwood’ (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) or ‘fossil tree’ has been planted in the manse garden, and is maintained by the community. This was clearly the site of one of enlightenment Scotland’s important botanical gardens – another reason for underlining Stuart’s importance, and of the village in which he ministered from 1777 until his death in 1821.

Having promised Janine that we’d be back in touch, and drawing her attention to the Curious Travellers website, I headed off for a late lunch and a hill walk, delighted that my unprepared visit to Luss had been so fruitful, and that I’d had the good fortune to meet, entirely by chance, someone who was so well informed about Dr Stuart, and so generous in sharing her information and enthusiasm. But the rest of the day had more delights in store, as I drove up the length of Loch Lomond to Glenfalloch, parked at Bein Glas farm and, following in the tracks of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ascended the steep path to Bein Glas waterfall in the now blazing sun. Climbing further up, I followed the ridge southwards, gaining some magnificent views of the Loch and its wooded shores on a bright spring day, with the snow still gleaming on Stob-nan-Choinnich and Ben Vorlich across the glen.

Loch Lomond from Bein Glas ridge

Descending a steep but brackenless slope towards Cnap Mor, I joined the West Highland Way in one of its most beautiful passages, and walked back through early primroses, ruined black houses, and lengthening afternoon shadows as the sun sank behind the wall of mountains to the west.

Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century student marginalia in copies of Pennant’s Tours in Scotland held in St Andrews University Library

Nigel Leask

For some time we’ve been gathering information about the reception of Pennant’s 1769 and 1772 Tours in Scotland north of the border. By and large Scottish readers were positive, especially when compared with the storm that blew up after the publication of Dr Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands in 1775. Most of the criticisms that we have found were levelled at Pennant’s treatment of Jacobitism and his comments on the Battle of Culloden, or on ‘proscribed’ clans like the MacGregors.

However, when my Glasgow colleague Dr Mathew Sangster alerted me to Emily Savage’s marvellous blog posted on St Andrew’s University Library Special Collections website I was forced to revise my opinion! Its title is ‘Copyright ABCS – “This Book is Very Ill Used”. Student Marginalia in a Tour of Scotland’.

St Andrews students adorn the margins with complaints (often in very picturesque terms) about Pennant’s shortcomings as a traveller and travel writer. Sometimes these are plain wrong-headed: he is blamed for not mentioning Oban and Tobermory in his statement that there were no towns in the Highlands between Campbeltown and Thurso (in fact neither town had been founded in 1772). But he is also criticized for credulity regarding Highland superstitions, and for misspelling, and slandered as ‘a blockhead’, a ‘damned liar’ and (worst of all) a ‘Welch goat’. The only mitigating factor appears to be that St Andrews students (who had to take library books home and would consequently read, and scribble on, book with no supervision) were even-handed with their abuse, and many other authors came in for much worse invective than Pennant. This fascinating marginalia also demonstrates, of course, just how widely read Pennant’s Tours were in the period.

Thanks to Sean Ripington, St Andrews’ Digital Archives Officer, for permission to share this blog and link on Curious Travellers website.